Book Review: Rebecca's Choice by Heidi Gallacher
By Heidi Gallacher
‘Can Rebecca find the love and passion she craves within a Victorian world that seems to be conspiring against her?’
It is 1887 and Queen Victoria is on the throne. Businessman and meteorologist Geoffrey de Roussier is passionate about his weather station and railways, yet little of his passion seems to filter through to his shy, naïve young wife, Rebecca.
Following his tragic demise, Rebecca discovers that Geoffrey’s railroad investments have failed, leaving her penniless. As the past threatens to engulf her, Rebecca realises she has to make a choice. Gwilym Llewellyn, Geoffrey’s trusted friend and advisor, has an emotional debt to repay to Geoffrey and meets Rebecca to offer her a solution. Meanwhile Rebecca has found passion in another direction …
One man will save her from destitution, the other will offer her the love and excitement that she aches for. Whom will she choose?
"I believe that I am happy…"
Rebecca may not have the passion that her dear friend, Bessie, has with her husband, and lovemaking may be something of a chore, but there is the promise of children, and of course, there is Tredelerch – the most beautiful house in Wales.
She is lucky, for Geoffrey has always treated her with respect and kindness. She is content. Rebecca would have remained content probably for the rest of her life, never knowing anything about the secrets that shone from Bessie's eyes. Her future would have been predictable but comfortable.
However, when Geoffrey dies in a tragic accident, Rebecca is given the opportunity to experience true love for the first time in her life. Unfortunately, Geoffrey's investment ventures will come back to haunt her and threaten not only her future happiness but the fate of her beloved Tredelerch as well…
Told in the first person, Rebecca's Choice by Heidi Gallacher is the enthralling and unforgettable story of Rebecca de Roussier. This novel was almost effortless in the reading. The melodic rhythm to the narrative and the crystalline prose meant that the words swept over me like a gentle wave as it crashes upon the shore. This is a story that is utterly beguiling from the opening sentence to the very last full stop. It is also the kind of book that one could read over and over again and never tire of.
Oh, Rebecca — how I adored her, and what heartrending choices she had to make during this novel. Rebecca stole my heart because she is just so unfailingly honest with herself at all times. She is, in all ways, exceedingly likeable. There is no malice in her. She is not prone to fits of temper – she accepts everything that befalls her with a quiet dignity that fails to convey the very depths of the emotional distress that she is experiencing. Gallacher has presented a very touching portrait of a young woman who is endeavouring to discover who she really is.
Like the bridge in Swansea that would end up leading to nowhere, Gallacher has depicted a marriage that starts with hope but ends in indifference. And yet, there is no bitterness, no hatred and, surprisingly, no regret. Rebecca's relationship with her husband is one of security but also one of duty. It is a very Victorian marriage, and when it so tragically ends, it does so without any hysteria. There is sadness, but no sense of wretchedness, which I think says it all. It is, therefore, a complete contrast to Rebecca's parents' marriage, for they loved each other dearly, and when her father died, her mother was at a total loss. It isn't until Rebecca meets a former student of her husband's that she realises what she had been missing. Like a bird let out of a cage, Rebecca dares to spread her wings. But financial constraints and emotional obligations mean that she can never soar to the heights that she would like to. I thought Gallacher’s depiction of the marriage between Rebecca and Geoffrey was desperately tragic, not because it was abusive in any way, but because it did a grave disservice to both of them – they both deserved better.
The are several key turning moments in this novel, but one of the pivotal discoveries is that of the turret-room at, Tredelerch. The turret-room is something of an awakening for Rebecca. Rebecca knows from the very beginning that her marriage is missing the spark that she sees in her friend's eyes. Her marriage to Geoffrey is more of a duty on both sides. Geoffrey wants a wife and family, but he has no intention of falling in love with Rebecca – which in itself is a tragedy for Rebecca has love to spare. Rebecca convinces herself that she is content. But the turret-room allows Rebecca to glimpse into her husband's past, and she realises that he does indeed know what passion is, and he could show her what she craves. The discovery of the turret-room is a turning point in their relationship – and it comes to symbolise everything that is wrong in their marriage. She is married to a man who will never give her what her heart craves and yet, she hides her disappointment and her frustration behind a gracefully heroic façade.
Through Rebecca's exclusion of both personal finances relating to the home and the broader financial implications of her husband's business ventures, Gallacher explores the late Victorian society structure and in particular the role of women. Rebecca is, as society dictated, subservient to her husband in all things. She does not have a voice, and nor is she included in any of her husband's affairs, which leads to some very difficult and heart-breaking decisions later on in this novel. Rebecca is constrained by the time she lives in – her future can only be secured through wealth, and this dictates every decision that Rebecca makes. I thought Gallacher explored the role of women in the Victorian era with a sensitivity and an understanding of what it must have been like to live during this time. I thought Gallacher’s depiction of the moment Rebecca discovered the truth was written with an emphatic understanding of her protagonist's plight.
Throughout this novel, Rebecca is subconsciously searching for something in her life that she doesn't understand. As a Victorian woman, Rebecca wants stability, security and a home. Tredelerch defines the very idea of what ‘home’ is for her. It takes the entire length of this novel for Rebecca to realise that home is not necessarily made of bricks and mortar, and that it can be found in a loving glance, a gentle touch of hands.
The historical detailing of this book is staggering. Gallacher has a keen sense of time and place. The hours that have gone into researching this book must have been extensive, but the sacrifice has undoubtedly paid off. When Historical Fiction is written in such a way, there is no such thing as too much!
If you are looking for a tender page-turning story set in Wales in the late 19th Century, then look no further. Rebecca's Choice by Heidi Gallacher is a real treat for any reader who enjoys quality Historical Fiction.
I Highly Recommend.
Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.
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Heidi Gallacher was born in London in the Sixties. She grew up in Cardiff and Swansea, South Wales. She jumped at the chance to move to Paris in her twenties to learn a new language and culture.
Following the arrival of her first son she moved to sunny Switzerland where she has lived ever since. She completed her Masters in Creative Writing in 2018 and her first short story Changing Places was published in September of that year. Rebecca's Choice is her first novel.
When not writing, Heidi writes and performs music, swims in Lake Zürich and fundraises for Africa.
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