Norah Lofts is one of those historical writers on whom one easily stamps a romantic image: mansions, young, slightly devilish counts, shy virgins, angry mother-in-laws... When I started Hester Roon, one of Lofts's later novels (it's from 1982), I got fast rid of my presuppositions: the book begins with a woman giving birth at an attic of a roadhouse, thinking that if it's a boy, she'll give it away, if it's a girl, she kills it. It's a girl and the mother doesn't have the nerve to kill it. She promises the inn-keeper that the child won't get in the way of her work and keeps the baby tied up in her bed for the first two years of her life.
The tone is set and everything that follows is very grim and reeks of misery. Which would've been very nice, but the book really doesn't go anywhere, and at the end I was left wondering what Lofts wanted to say with her novel. If it's only "keep your chin up, everything will turn out okay", I don't think it's a good enough reason to write a novel. The ending has more romantic clichés than the previous 400 pages, which was a pity, since the preceding grimness was much more interesting. There's no kiss between the love couple, though - and actually the love aspect is only hinted at.
I have a stack of other Norah Lofts novels waiting for me, but I'll have to read Alex Haley's Roots first. Reason: I'm editing a reference book on historical writers with two friends of mine and I'll have to write about Lofts and Haley, two writers I hadn't previously read.
(My contribution to this week's Friday's Forgotten Books series, hosted by Patti Abbott.)