Tag Archives: christina baker kline

THE EXILES by Christina Baker Kline

This is a good year to be reading historical fiction, right? What’s better than transporting yourself OUT of 2020 to another time? Christina Baker Kline’s The Exiles takes you to 1840s Australia (though I am not sure it’s all that much better than 2020). The Exiles is about three women: Evangeline, a woman wrongly convicted of theft and sentenced to prison and then exile to Australia; Hazel, an Irish girl also convicted of theft and sent to exile in Australia; and Methinna, an orphaned Aboriginal girl who is adopted by a British governor and his wife in Tanzania. These three women’s lives intersect as they navigate the difficulties of their new lives.

Why I picked it up: I really enjoyed Kline’s Orphan Train (reviewed here) and was in the mood for some good storytelling from an other era. (I also loved her earlier book, Bird In Hand, reviewed here).

Kline clearly did a ton of research for The Exiles. She includes a lot of detail every step of the way, from Newgate Prison in London to the transport ship, the prisons in Australia and the work assignments women convicts received when they got off the ship, Kline’s storytelling is rich and evocative. I felt as though I could imagine these women’s lives – what they ate, what they wore, where they slept. I was aware that England sent convicts to settle Australia, dislodging of course the native Aborigines who populated the island before the British got there, but I learned a lot more from The Exiles.

The Exiles is relentlessly depressing, though. These women experience unspeakable loss and abuse, and their lives are very difficult and treacherous. This is definitely not light, escapist fiction. Also, in the end, the story and characters were a bit superficial. Methinna’s storyline gets dropped pretty early, while naive Evangeline and scrappy Hazel do not get developed very deeply as characters. The book is about the power of friendship and perseverance, but the strength of the book lies in its historical detail rather than in its storytelling. The Exiles is not terribly long, but it felt like it took me a long time to get through it.

I listened to The Exiles on audio, and the narration by Caroline Lee was excellent. She covers a lot of accents and even has do to some singing at times. She’s perfect. I highly recommend the audio version if you want to read The Exiles.

The Exiles was book #63 of 2020.

BIRD IN HAND by Christina Baker Kline

Thank you, Christina Baker Kline, for getting me out of my reading slump! I just finished Bird in Hand, and I am BACK!

Kline Bird in Hand, which I blogged about here, is about two couples – Ben and Claire, and Alison and Charlie. Alison and Claire were childhood best friends. After Claire and Ben (who were already engaged) met Charlie while they were living in London, Claire set up Charlie and Alison, who wind up getting married too. This book is, at its core, about when happens when Claire and Charlie finally confront the fact that they are with the wrong partners, and that they are in love with each other.

The book opens with a book party and a car accident. The accident and its aftermath are the accelerator for the ultimate destruction of these two marriages, which was already underway. Kline tells this story unflinchingly, taking on the difficult truths that these four people face with sharp detail and brisk pacing. I had a lot of trouble putting it down. There are no villains here, just four people who found themselves approaching the midpoint of their lives and trying to figure out who they are, what makes them happy, and what sacrifices they are willing to make.

I liked this quote, about Charlie dealing with his wife's accident:

[H]e knew that, really, her culpability wasn't the issue – it was that he'd been on the brink of self-discovery, a quest that had nothing to do with her. It was separate from her, from the children, from their life. But this accident made it impossible for him to pursue it. He felt now, at the edge of a feeling more powerful, more dangerous than he could ever remember having experienced – a bottomless despair.

Kline's a detailed writer – mostly in the description of her characters' interior thoughts and emotions – and I felt like I really knew and understood these four people by the end of the book. I cared about them and could understand what made them act as they did. Kline also did a nice job of sharing just enough of the past to make the present make sense, through well-chosen flashbacks and memories.

How did I not know about Christina Baker Kline before? I will be reading more of her books! Great read, and highly recommended.

FTC disclosure: Thanks to Morrow for sending me a review copy of this book.

BIRD IN HAND by Christina Baker Kline

Ok, this book doesn't take me anywhere outside my domestic fiction comfort zone, but I read about Bird in Hand, by Christina Baker Kline, in More magazine and thought it was worth a look. From Amazon:

Kline In her fourth novel Kline traces the construction and collapse of two long-term relationships. On her way home to New Jersey after an awkward party for her lifelong friend Claire's highly autobiographical first novel, Alison gets into a car accident that kills a boy in the other car. Even though the accident wasn't her fault, Allison, a mother of two young children, is wracked with grief and guilt. Her husband, Charlie, also struggles with the impulse to blame his wife, especially as he longs for any excuse to escalate his nascent affair with Claire and end his marriage. Episodes detailing the inevitable collapse of Alison and Charlie's marriage, as well as Claire's marriage to her well-meaning husband, Ben, are interspersed with vignettes revealing the four friends' 10-plus–year history together. Shifting perspectives and thoughtful interior monologues reveal just how isolated, and in some cases misguided, the characters are. Kline's unflinching gaze and lovely prose sets Kline's novel apart from the herd of infidelity/marital ennui novels. It's well-done, thoughtful and thought provoking.

I've read a couple of blog reviews of Bird in Hand and they are uniformly positive (Joseph's Reviews, Bibliophile by the Sea).

Book Club Girl has a guest post from Christina Baker Kline this week about her two book clubs. She lives in Montclair, NJ (where I am actually headed this weekend – my brother and his family live there too), which allegedly has the highest concentration of novelists of any city in the U.S. Here is a New York Times article about Montclair and why so many novelists live there.

Would love to hear from EDIWTB readers who have read Bird in Hand.