When I was around 9, my family’s summer road trip (always ten days, meticulously planned by my father) took us to Roanoke Island and we saw the play about the lost colony. 1587! I didn’t understand in 1963 or so how old that was. At that age, the U.S. Colonial times melted together with Columbus and the transcendentalists and putting them in order wasn’t happening for me. Still, those trips are what made my interest in history take hold. Certainly not the rote dates and wars and powerful people we studied at school. Context and imagination were needed to make my brain go wild.
This by way of saying, I was just the right age to dwell on the mystery and drama of the lost colony, how people returned from a trip to England and found no sign of the people they’d left behind. What I love about The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare, a novel that imagines Eleanor Dare survived and had at least one more child is that it makes me think of myself as a dreamy little girl and this story is so much about dreamy girls who become mothers of dreamy girls. Eleanor Dare was one of the lost settlers. She was the mother of Virginia Dare, the first baby born in a “New World English” colony. Her father John White was the governor, but he’s one of the people who left for supplies and didn’t get back until it was too late.
Most of this book takes place toward the end of WWII in Georgia. Alice Mereley Young, a descendent of Eleanor carries so much grief and guilt over her mother’s mental illness and death years ago, so much she never shared with anyone, including her thirteen year old daughter Penn, that her pain and self seem too heavy to lift. WWII is winding down, but her husband died two years ago, killed in Italy when he was taken prisoner. Now Eleanor’s father has died and she finds her childhood home, set on a huge expanse of land near Savannah with a chapel on a little island on the river that borders it is still there. It is hers. It came down from her mother. But she never intended to come back. Too much pain. Home is now a little town with the garage and restaurant her father and beloved stepmother ran.
The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare is a lovely story of a mother and daughter going home to Evertell, the family estate, and finding their way through trauma and loss, partly with the help of an ancient common book passed down by the women in the family chock full of recipes, charms and wisdom. For Alice, it is also the home of the story her mother wrote about the life of Eleanor Dare. But Claire never told Alice the ending she longs to hear/read. This is a beautifully written and compelling story.
NOTE: It is long and I was kind of sorry it was the next book to read in my list, because of that. NOTE: I never noticed it was long.
There is a theme, about women and girls through time and the power of women’s endurance, spirit, inner light, courage and creativity when strength is needed to keep going and to be one’s own true self. But at heart, its just an engaging, wonderful story, a little mystical, very practical, sometimes humorous, often “deep” but anyone who wrote in a review “dnf” lost a lot when they stopped reading. It is a richly satisfying, probably a woman’s book –but definitely just right for a real range of women with satisfying characters all around.