Source: Review copy
Publication: 17 February 2022 from Manilla Press
My thanks to the publishers and Tracy Fenton for an advance copy for review
In an age defined by men, it will take something extraordinary to show four women who they truly are . . .
October 1840. A young woman staggers alone through a forest in Shropshire as a huge pair of impossible wings rip themselves from her shoulders.
Meanwhile, when rumours of a ‘fallen angel’ cause a frenzy across London, a surgeon desperate for fame and fortune finds himself in the grip of a dangerous obsession, one that will place the women he seeks in the most terrible danger . . .
I am woman; hear me roar. Liz Hyder’s scintillating novel is set in the past but has tremendous resonance for today. I loved her YA book, Bearmouth, but with The Gifts, Hyder has excelled herself, using her love of nature and science to create a magnificent book that is both elemental and profound.
The Gifts is about the importance of nature and treasuring your environment and at the same time it is a feminist cry. Set in nineteenth century London, amid the male medical fraternity, it shows us in illuminating fashion just how vainglorious men can be and how ambition and vanity can come together with the dominant ideology of the patriarchy to create monsters.
The Gifts is told from the perspective of 5 women. Mary is a journalist, scraping a living and supplementing her income by sewing buttons onto card. Etta is an outcast in her own home. Spurned by her half-brother, she is sent to live in the grounds of her Shropshire home where she studies and documents the nature and wildlife around her. Stupidly supposing her work will be of value to the men who write learned tomes about such things, she finds that her sex militates against her observations being taken in any way seriously. With her brown skin, she is already an outcast before her sex is taken into account.
Natalya is grieving a profound loss; she is hurting to her very core and being so far away from home, she is lost and so very alone. She seeks refuge in a place where everyone should feel safe, but houses of worship are no barrier to those whose god like aspirations drive them forward.
Annie is a painter. Married to Edward, she wants to see her husband succeed in his chosen profession as a surgeon and man of science, but Edward has more grandiose dreams; dreams that come to obsess and consume him until he loses all reason.
There is one other woman who is lost almost before we begin, but it is she who begins our magical journey and becomes the catalyst for all that follows.
Each of these women is gifted in different ways. Each is an individual who has suffered because of who they are and what life has bestowed on them. Their experience manifests itself in a glorious, stunning fashion.
Liz Hyder creates a fascinating, repressive world that is both gothic and magical. Her gift is for the best kind of storytelling and I was entranced. I was wholly drawn into this world and I loved that as I read and heard these stories, it made me think about my own life and my relationship to the values that I hold close.
Verdict: An immersive, spell-binding, propulsive story with fabulous characters that allows you to get wholly drawn into the story of their lives which makes the violence perpetrated against them all the more devastating. This is a glorious book that combines historical fiction with magical realism and yet carries huge contemporary resonance. I absolutely adored it and it is undoubtedly one of my books of the year. Go and buy it. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Liz Hyder is a writer, creative workshop leader and freelance arts PR Consultant. She has been part of Writing West Midlands’s Room 204 writer development programme since 2016. In early 2018, she won The Bridge Award/Moniack Mhor’s Emerging Writer Award. A past member of the National Youth Theatre, Liz has a BA in Drama from the University of Bristol and is on the board of Wales Arts Review. Previously, she’s developed a pilot series with Channel 4 Scotland, collaborated with theE17 Shadow Puppet Theatre for the Cultural Olympiad and been runner-up of the Roy W Dean Writers’ Grant (International Writing Award).
She worked in BBC publicity for six years on everything from EastEnders, Holby and Casualty to Radio 4 and arts TV. Since going freelance, she has been shortlisted for and won various PPC (Publishers’ Publicity Circle) Awards. Since 2016, she has been the Film Programme Coordinator at Hay Festival.