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The Words In My Hand: Shortlisted for the…
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The Words In My Hand: Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2016 (editie 2016)

door Guinevere Glasfurd (Auteur)

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The Words in My Hand is the reimagined true story of Helena Jans, a Dutch maid in 17th-century Amsterdam, who works for Mr Sergeant the English bookseller. When a mysterious and reclusive lodger arrives - the Monsieur - Mr Sergeant insists everything must be just so. It transpires that the Monsieur is Rene Descartes. This is Helena ?s story: the woman in front of Descartes, a young woman who yearns for knowledge, who wants to write so badly she makes ink from beetroot and writes in secret on her skin - only to be held back by her position in society. Weaving together the story of Descartes ? quest for reason with Helena ?s struggle for literacy, their worlds overlap as their feelings deepen; yet remain sharply divided. For all Descartes ? learning, it is Helena he seeks out as she reveals the surprise in the everyday world that surrounds him. When reputation is everything and with so much to lose, some truths must remain hidden. Helena and Descartes face a terrible tragedy and ultimately have to decide if their love is possible at all.… (meer)
Lid:pieternella
Titel:The Words In My Hand: Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2016
Auteurs:Guinevere Glasfurd (Auteur)
Info:Two Roads (2016)
Verzamelingen:Jouw bibliotheek
Waardering:****
Trefwoorden:Geen

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The Words in My Hand door Guinevere Glasfurd

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Toon 4 van 4
4 Stars. I enjoyed reading this novel but somehow it didn't reach my favourites list which surprised and disappointed me a bit. The premise sounded so interesting and it was, but yet I felt a little removed from the characters in the story rather than immersed in it. But, on the positive side there is much to recommend this novel. It is interesting how the author focuses on Descartes's lover, a maid, and her child,) rather than Descartes himself. One that philosophy students and historians will no doubt find interesting. It brings to the forefront many questions about the character of Descarte, his lover and their love child. So, in this respect it thoroughly deserves its nomination as a Costa First Novel Award. I loved the first half of the book. It really worked for me, perhaps because the maid in question loves to write, and I do too! ( )
  marjorie.mallon | Mar 27, 2019 |
‘’Didn’t they know I had used the last of my paper on this work? The new paper I wanted, bought with money I’d never have, blew about my head, tumbling like leaves in a gale. I saw birds, caught in the storm, taken higher and higher, quills blown to the top of the sky.’’

In one of my recent reviews, I wrote about debuts and how fortunate we readers are to live in a time that constantly gives us more and more examples of authors whose first forays to the world of Literature are exceptional. This novel by Guinevere Glasfurd is one more token of our wonderful, exciting reading era.

Helena is a young woman, living in the Netherlands, during the 17th century. She is quite different and quite ahead of her time. She craves knowledge and has taught herself to read and write. However, she is forced to travel to Amsterdam to become a maid in order to financially support her mother and finds herself in the enterprise of an English bookseller. One day, the famous René Descartes arrives as a temporary lodger and from that moment on, the book examines the difficult relationship between the Dutch girl and the French philosopher.

Glasfurd weaves the story around the love affair between the main characters, but the novel never becomes a romance, not even close. She has done a wonderful job with the characters and their interactions. In the heroine’s portrayal, she has achieved the perfect balance because Helena tries to achieve independence and fulfillment of her thirst for a better life but -faithful to the context of the era- she never manages to escape the various social constraints. It is often that we see female characters in historical novels who aren’t realistic and have turned out too modern. Here, this doesn’t happen and fortunately so, because her point of view is our sole eyes to the story and her ideas are clearly in the foreground.

Descartes is a man of thought, coming to grips with reality with great difficulty. He is a loner, desperate to communicate his ideas, a man who doubts the established system. His relationship with Helena causes him to challenge his perspective, but there are limits. He has his mission but finds a new kind of fulfillment in Helena’s presence. She challenges his world view up to a point and forces him to question all the beliefs he had taken for granted.

When the setting is the beautiful country of the Netherlands, then it becomes a character in itself.Here, our focus isn’t just Amsterdam. We travel to Deventer, Leiden, Santpoort and Amersfoort. The descriptions are so vivid that I could picture the cities, I could smell the market odours, I could feel the crisp, wintry air. There is an absolutely stunning text where Descartes describes the snowflakes whose beauty and poetry drove away the heatwave we’re currently experiencing in Athens.

The interactions are well-composed, the dialogues a successful mixture of clear language that balances daily speech and period speech. The voices of the characters are fully ‘’heard’’, the details of the everyday life of the era create a beautiful background. The writer achieved to bring fact and fiction together in harmony and managed to highlight the issues of a woman’s struggle to find her place in a world made by men for men, the search of knowledge, the responsibility and self-sacrifice of being a single parent, the eternal fight between Thought and Action.

I admit I am very fond of novels that are set in the Netherlands, but I can’t help it. There is something in that particular setting that provides a distinctive aura to a novel. Glasfurd’s book is as beautiful and fluid as the waters of Amstel in the dusk, as the flickering lights on its surface…. ( )
  AmaliaGavea | Jul 15, 2018 |
Helena Jans van der Storm ist Magd bei dem Buchhändler Thomas Sergeant. Dass sie lesen und schreiben kann, ist ziemlich außergewöhnlich für eine Magd. Sie ist aufmerksam, wissbegierig und arbeitet sorgfältig. Als ihr Herr den neuen Hausgast „Monsieur“ aufnimmt, der ständig arbeitet und Leute anzieht, ist sie neugierig. Sie fühlt sich zu ihm hingezogen. Er ermuntert sie, ihm von sich zu erzählen. Auf Descartes übt sie auch eine Anziehungskraft aus und so kommt es, dass die beiden eine Affäre haben. Das bleibt nicht ohne Folgen. Helena wird schwanger. Sie muss Amsterdam verlassen. In Deventer kommt sie bei Frau Anhold unter. Hier kommt auch ihre Tochter Francine zur Welt.
Wird ihre Liebe Bestand haben? Wird sich Monsieur Descartes um Helena und seine Tochter kümmern?
Es ist eine Liebe, die von Anfang an unter schwierigen Bedingungen entsteht. Helena ist eine Magd, während René Descartes ein bekannter Philosoph und Wissenschaftler ist. Auch ihr Glaube erschwert eine Beziehung, sie ist Calvinistin, er Katholik. Aber sie setzen sich über alle Standesdünkel hinweg.
Diese Geschichte baut auf einer wahren Begebenheit auf und mischt diese perfekt mit Annahmen und Fiktion.
Die Charaktere sind sehr authentisch geschildert. Man kann ihre Gedanken, Gefühle und Nöte nachvollziehen. Es gehört Mut dazu, sich zur Liebe zu bekennen und alle Konventionen über Bord zu werfen.
Die Geschichte ist romantisch, entbehrt aber auch nicht einer gewissen Tragik, denn das Schicksal legt Helena einige schwere Prüfung auf. Der Schreibstil ist einfach und angenehm flüssig zu lesen.
Eine bewegende Geschichte einer Liebe, die nicht sein darf. Empfehlenswert! ( )
  buecherwurm1310 | Jan 9, 2018 |
The Words in My Hand piqued my interest because it’s a reimagining of a relationship between a Dutch maid and René Descartes, a French philosopher and mathematician who is on my radar because The Spouse is studying him this year at Monash. If you’ve read Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier (or seen the film) then you know the script: domestic servant to Somebody Eminent forms special relationship and in some way contributes to The Work of the Great Man but slips back into obscurity because women are always unrecognised for their contribution.

Well, in this case there really was a Helena Jans, and she really was employed by a bookseller called Thomas Sergeant in Amsterdam, and Descartes was a lodger there in 1634. Like any number of domestic servants all over the world, yes, she did bear the gentleman a child, but here the historical record varies from the script for unwed mothers. The child was born in 1635, acknowledged by Descartes, and he was named, albeit obliquely, on her baptismal certificate. Scraps of information hint at cohabitation at least for a time, and there is a record of Descartes paying a substantial dowry to an eventual husband for Helena.

Out of this scanty record, British author Guinevere Glasfurd has woven a satisfying debut novel which celebrates the thirst for knowledge in a world where women were denied it and men were constrained by church ideology.

To read the rest of my review please visit http://anzlitlovers.com/2016/02/19/the-words-in-my-hand-by-guinevere-glasfurd/ ( )
  anzlitlovers | Jul 24, 2017 |
Toon 4 van 4
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The Words in My Hand is the reimagined true story of Helena Jans, a Dutch maid in 17th-century Amsterdam, who works for Mr Sergeant the English bookseller. When a mysterious and reclusive lodger arrives - the Monsieur - Mr Sergeant insists everything must be just so. It transpires that the Monsieur is Rene Descartes. This is Helena ?s story: the woman in front of Descartes, a young woman who yearns for knowledge, who wants to write so badly she makes ink from beetroot and writes in secret on her skin - only to be held back by her position in society. Weaving together the story of Descartes ? quest for reason with Helena ?s struggle for literacy, their worlds overlap as their feelings deepen; yet remain sharply divided. For all Descartes ? learning, it is Helena he seeks out as she reveals the surprise in the everyday world that surrounds him. When reputation is everything and with so much to lose, some truths must remain hidden. Helena and Descartes face a terrible tragedy and ultimately have to decide if their love is possible at all.

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