Saturday, 12 March 2016

Murcheson County by Rodney Page, reviewed by Jan Needle

I only like historical novels when the history has the absolute tang of authenticity,
and also startles me.When I read Murcheson County I had little detailed knowledge of the American Civil War, and quite possibly wasn't too bothered about finding out much more. This novel hit me in the stomach. Rodney Page is an expert, and in certain emotional aspects of the conflict, I now feel that I am too.

Murcheson County tells the stories of four families who arrive at the centre of a Georgia hauling itself out of the primeval. They would like to make their fortunes, obviously – or eke a living if that is all they can – in lands being newly opened up to settlement. Ezekial Salter wins his holding in the 1807 Georgia Land Lottery, while the long established Underwoods see soaring opportunities for planting cotton and consolidating their wealth.

There are slaves in this newly-opened land as well, of course, and Murcheson County lies not far south of the great economic and social divide that is leading America into war. As Abraham Lincoln and his government press ever harder to end or modify what they see as their country’s shame, the people of the South prepare to fight to the death to maintain the way of life they see as wholly reasonable. 

For Salter, the Underwoods, a slave called Gant, and a beautiful and brilliant Irish immigrant woman, the struggle becomes personal, real, and appallingly cruel. The descent is not a hurried one, at first, but it has a crushing inevitability.

Civil wars tear communities and families apart, and engender the most bestial  forms of language and behaviour - none of which does Page gloss over. His writing of the minute by minute tragedy of the battlefield is heartrending. Overall, however, it is a novel of humanity and hope. I loved it.

It's on Amazon in Britain and the USA.

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