Review: The Marriage of Opposites

Posted 29 July, 2015 by Lianne in Books / 2 Comments

The Marriage of Opposites
By: Alice Hoffman
Format/Source: Advanced Reading Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Dovekeepers and The Museum of Extraordinary Things: a forbidden love story set on the tropical island of St. Thomas about the extraordinary woman who gave birth to painter Camille Pissarro—the Father of Impressionism.

Growing up on idyllic St. Thomas in the early 1800s, Rachel dreams of life in faraway Paris. Rachel’s mother, a pillar of their small refugee community of Jews who escaped the Inquisition, has never forgiven her daughter for being a difficult girl who refuses to live by the rules. Growing up, Rachel’s salvation is their maid Adelle’s belief in her strengths, and her deep, life-long friendship with Jestine, Adelle’s daughter. But Rachel’s life is not her own. She is married off to a widower with three children to save her father’s business. When her husband dies suddenly and his handsome, much younger nephew, Frédérick, arrives from France to settle the estate, Rachel seizes her own life story, beginning a defiant, passionate love affair that sparks a scandal that affects all of her family, including her favorite son, who will become one of the greatest artists of France.

Building on the triumphs of The Dovekeepers and The Museum of Extraordinary Things, set in a world of almost unimaginable beauty, The Marriage of Opposites showcases the beloved, bestselling Alice Hoffman at the height of her considerable powers. Once forgotten to history, the marriage of Rachel and Frédérick is a story that is as unforgettable as it is remarkable.

This is the second book by Alice Hoffman that I’ve read. I read Practical Magic (review) a few years ago and absolutely loved it. I tried reading The Probable Future but was immediately turned off about two chapters in with the frustrating mother-daughter dynamics. Nonetheless I was curious to check out her other books as they sounded very interesting. I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. This book will be available on 04 August 2015.

It takes maybe a chapter or two to really get into the story and the narrative style used, but after that I was just totally drawn into the story. This story follows the life of Rachel Pomie, her upbringing on St. Thomas, her marriages, her family, her relationship with her son Camille Pissarro. Rachel is a headstrong woman whose passion and imagination just doesn’t conform with the close-knit Jewish community that she grew up in and especially not with her mother whom she does not get along. I really felt for her as she struggled and conformed and followed her heart through good times and bad times. It was stressful to read at times as she faced off with her community over her relationship with Frederick and later with Camille; I just wanted her to be happy and to do what she wants (though she can be a little frustrating at times too!).

Like in Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman does a wonderful job in presenting a multigenerational story and the intricate nature of family relationships between mothers and daughters, mothers and sons from one generation to the next. It’s strange how certain elements repeat themselves and the whole growing up and parenting angle. There are of course secrets in this family that colour some of the relationships, namely between Rachel and her mother, but it was sort of introduced a little late for me to really be as interested as I would normally be to such revelations.

I also learned quite a bit from this novel. I had to look up St. Thomas in the map because it’s such a faraway place from Europe with its island life and yet this community operates like it is set in Europe. Its remoteness is such that I forget sometimes when in the 1800s this novel is set until larger events occur, not to mention Camille’s development as an artist.

The Marriage of Opposites was overall an interesting read. I felt the narration at times sounded a little odd, namely when it switches from Rachel’s first-person to a third-person narration, but there were a lot of great lines throughout and I really came to care for the characters and what happened to them, even when they frustrated me at times. Readers of Alice Hoffman’s novels and historical fiction will want to check out this title, it was quite a different read 🙂

Rating: ★★★★☆

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