Die deutsche Rezension findet ihr hier
England at the end of the 19th century: Louisa Cosgrove isn’t like most girls her age – and especially not like she should be. She wants to lead a self-determined life, but right now things are as far away from that as possible. Without her knowledge, the 17-year-old is sent to a psychiatric “clinic” where she’s told that her real name is Lucy Childs. Louise claims that they must be mistaken, that they got the wrong person, but she can try to prove her sanity as much as she likes, barely anyone is listening. How did she end up here, anyway – who sent her here and why?
The German title of “Wildthorn” is “My Heart So Wild” (don’t know whether the word-for-word-translation really works here ...) and it suits Louisa rather well, at least if you consider women’s place amongst society back then. If it was for her mother – and the majority of society –, Louisa would learn to lead a proper household, to take good care of her children und to speak politeness as her mother tongue. Instead, Louisa wants to learn other things, read books, explore the world and become a doctor, in which at least her father supports her. She doesn’t fit into the picture in any way – no wonder, given the small world she’s supposed to be satisfied with.
When I started to read this book, I really wanted to like it. There so much I like about its premise: a young woman defying the Victorian image of women, to name the most obvious. Women’s movements didn’t only exist since the 20th century and the discontent has to come from somewhere. So, nobody has to be afraid that Louisa might be too “modern”, she simply wants to live her own life, which, partly, would have been possible in our times – not quite either, though, which is probably the most bitter realization of “Wildthorn”.
How Louisa fights for her right to be herself and how she fares in the clinic ... this is something I wanted to read about. The novel itself was nice to read as well, despite the fact that, in the German translation, “where” was used to refer to a point of time, which really gets my hackles up. So, everything was fine to begin with. Louisa is instantly sent to the clinic, but the chapters dealing with her present situation take turns with others telling us about her past life, starting eleven years ago until those chapters catch up. This way, we get to know little Louisa and her thirst for adventures, who already won’t fit in. Her relationship to her father, her brother, her mother ... we are told about all of that, just as we are about what happened that could have brought her into the clinic.
My problem is that the novel stayed interesting, but also became predictable. I couldn’t guess everything instantly and with every possible detail, but “Wildthorn” never really managed to surprise me. My even bigger problem is that I don’t know how to judge this. Is it predictable because the author created a weak plot? Or is it predictable because she let happen what logically had to happen back then? I lean towards the second option; there were people who wanted to support women like Louisa, but there were even more sticking to old system in any way possible. Can I take points from my rating for that? It seems unfair, especially when you consider that “Wildthorn” already has some unfair ratings that have nothing to do with the book itself but people’s limited worldview. On the other hand, I’ve never been swept away, not really, so here’s a compromise: I take away half a point which doesn’t even show in the statistics. Just so you know!
There’s one question left I’d like to ask other readers – maybe you can help me to understand. However, this contains some spoilers, so please don’t read it if you don’t know the book yet and are planning to read it.
I skimmed through some other reviews and fortunately I saw just one person giving the book a one-star-rating because of Louisa’s homosexuality (while claiming she’s not homophobic, of course not). But what I read more often was an actual warning of the sex scene in the end, usually combined with the remark that they would still consider it bad if it were about a woman and a man instead of two women. (Yeah, sure ...) I could understand that, partly, if the scene was very detailed, but it’s written so flowery, nearly chaste and isn’t even one page long – where’s the problem, really? I just don’t get it.
“Wildthorn” is the story of a young woman in the 19th century who wants to live her life after her own standards and strengths – and who gets punished for that without ever hurting anybody. It’s an intriguing, but never thrilling book, though the time it is set in might be responsible for that. However, it’s worth a look – at least if you’re not restricted in your thinking.