Friday, 11 August 2017

The Floating Theatre by Martha Conway

Review by The Mole

When the steamship that May Bedloe is on explodes she finds herself on the banks of the Ohio with only the clothes she is wearing. Separated from Comfort, her cousin she was travelling with, she looks for some way to carry on. She joins the Floating Theatre as a seamstress, front of house, pianist, stage manager, show promotions, ticket maker and seller, in fact anything that is not actually on stage.

Then enter Mrs Howard, to who she owes money, to blackmail her into helping in the underground railroad.

When I saw this book I was very curious... I reviewed "O Freedom" a while ago, which is a book for younger readers, that follows a family along the underground railroad. Then "The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead won the Pulitzer Prize For Fiction (a book I haven't read) so another book touching on the same topic intrigued me.

The plot follows the theatre, which drifts down the river that marks the border between north and south, and is towed back up the river at end of season. We are introduced to theatre life in this cramped environment as well as a little of lives along the river and the coming of coal mining to the area - the fuel of the steamships.

May is a character that cannot lie - she corrects the smallest of errors in speech - so the theatre is an odd place to find her - stories and plays are "lies" after all. I found her a fascinating character to follow and how she coped with the pressures of blackmail that forced her to more than lie, but to break the law.

The story also covered an aspect of the railroad that I didn't know existed.

All in all an intriguing story told very well that left me with an idea what life on the Ohio at that time may have been like.

Genre - Adult historical fiction
Publisher - Zaffre Publishing

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