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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 3 September 2017
The novel ends with the devastating hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas in 1900, giving you a frightening sense of what it may feel like to be part of one. It's a pure coincidence that I read this novel a couple of weeks ago before the recent horrendous floods in Houston, which is not far from Galveston. The main part of the novel is about a fictional relationships between a professional pianist who decides to escape the scandal surrounding her affair with a married man by rushing into a marriage with an admirer from her schooldays, a widower who is looking for someone to bring up his young son in the right sort of manner. They knew little about each other, and she soons finds she is ill suited to her new life. His home help, who had been hoping to marry the man herself, tries hard to tolerate the new wife. Although they are polite to one another, we find out what each other thinks about the other as the narration moves between the two women. A well written story.
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on 15 May 2013
I love the writing of this author. Read this as enjoyed Rachel Dupree so much, but like that novel, this one ends so abruptly! Great story though and well worth a read.
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on 27 April 2017
Loved the plot and the writing
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on 6 September 2014
Beautiful book
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Set in 1900, this moving novel tells of a talented young pianist, Catherine Wainwright, who leaves Dayton, Ohio having been involved in a scandalous affair and subsequently found herself ostracized by the community. In desperation she starts writing once more to the man she once corresponded with years before and who admired her back then, Oscar Williams. They agree to marry, and Catherine travels hundreds of miles to Galveston in Texas, where Oscar has now made a life for himself. He is recently widowed, with a young son named Andre, and his housekeeper Nan who promised Oscar's late wife Bernadette that she would care for Andre.

Everything about her new environment is a shock to Catherine; meeting Oscar and getting to know him again after all the time that has passed, learning to deal with a young child who misses his mother as well as the housekeeper who has a firmly established place in the household, getting used to the remote, unfamiliar place that is now her home, coming to terms with having left everything she has known hundreds of miles away. So much change, so much upheaval for Catherine.

Then there is Nan, who has her promise to take care of Andre, but who is distrustful and suspicious of Catherine when she arrives, and wonders at the different behaviour and ways she brings with her. For Nan, Catherine's arrival also means that the romantic feelings for Oscar that she has tried to hide will now never be reciprocated. Whilst they are all dealing with these new relationships and struggles, the biggest test of their lives comes from nature in the form of the worst storm in US history.

This is a very absorbing and well-crafted historical novel, with a firm sense of place and time that I felt totally transported to. Ann Weisgarber has created two distinctive and strong female voices as narrators in Nan and Catherine. I felt sadness for Nan because she loves Oscar too and has to witness the affection that he shares with Catherine. Nan is such a key part of the household yet she is always slightly on the outside, whereas Catherine arrives and is immediately part of Oscar and Andre's family, which is understandably hard for Nan to stomach. Catherine looks to make a new start in Galveston with Oscar, having been in a desperate situation and seen this as her last opportunity. I admired Oscar, who had traveled south years before and made a home and life for himself, and who is a kind and trusting man. As I read, I was intrigued as to how these characters would relate to each other and what conflicts may arise. The author captures and portrays the subtleties of the relationships really well, with small moments that have huge significance.

Music is an important theme in the novel; it is such an important means of expression for both women, and the contrast in their styles mirrors the contrast in their personalities and backgrounds, yet music also unites them and suggests that they may not be that different after all, deep down.

The novel highlights the vulnerability of humans to the devastating forces of nature, with the author combining the real storm that took place in Galveston, Texas, with her fictional tale. It is a beautifully understated, character-driven story of promises and secrets, of disgrace and suspicion, of jealousy and love, and it is a compelling and emotional read which I greatly enjoyed. I shed a tear at the end.
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VINE VOICEon 4 February 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I loved Ann Weisgarber's other novel, so couldn't wait to grab this when it came up on Vine. Lovers of literary or historical fiction will find this a fascinating account of the Galveston disaster - a hurricane and tidal wave that swept the shores of Texas at the turn of the 20th century.

The two women telling the story have very distinct voices and I felt myself alternately rooting for first one and then the other.From different backgrounds, the two women are forced into each others company by their relationships with the same man, Oscar, and the child,Andre,left behind after the death of his first wife.

The relationship between the women is naturally uncomfortable, but this is subtly drawn, and never vocalised. The two main characters, Catherine and Nan, each tell it how it was for them, their view of the other, and great tension arises fromn this. The settings are so real you think you have been there. When the hurricane strikes the drama is all in the characters - in a way they make an impression far bigger than the hurricane, though that too is beautifully descibed. Poignant and moving, I was gripped and stayed up late to finish it - highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'm slightly ashamed to say that Ann Weisgarber's debut novel, The Personal History of Rachel Dupree, has sat on my bookshelves unread since I bought it in 2009, having been attracted by its longlisting for the Orange Prize. If it's half as good as this one, it won't be sitting on my shelves for much longer. The Promise was a simply wonderful read.

Set in 1900, Catherine Wainwright - a pianist -embarks on an ill-fated affair with a married man and finds herself ostracised by the community in Dayton, Ohio. She takes up the offer of marriage to Oscar Williams, a former admirer who was beneath her notice while delivering coal in his youth. He is now a widowed dairy farmer, living a thousand miles away (and in a very different world) in Galveston Island in Texas, and Catherine travels there to start her new life. She fares badly at first - not used to running a home and getting her hands dirty, she struggles to fit in. Her home is run by the other "voice" of the story, Nan Ogden, the daughter of a neighbouring ranch, a former friend of Oscar's late wife, who made the promise to care for Oscar's young son Andre and had perhaps thought that she would step into her shoes and take her place in Oscar's life. Caroline also faces a challenge in engaging with Andre, a well drawn young character who is still grieving for his mother and fails to be won over by his father's new wife, who can't cook and corrects his speech at every opportunity.

The descriptions of the island are vivid, but so is the atmosphere - you can feel the sense of suffocation of a household still struggling to come to terms with their grief and loss. Catherine being a pianist, music also flows through the book - her playing on the upright piano purchased by Oscar for her arrival helps build emotional links with both Andre and Nan. And throughout it all, there is the overarching feeling of a community at the mercy of the environment surrounding it. Then the challenges of their new lives are overtaken by the need to survive the biggest storm in US history.

This is a book you feel and experience rather than read. The growing affection between Caroline and both Oscar and Andre gave me an almost physical ache - this is a book that portrays and evokes strong emotions while focusing on the little things of life, and I found it quite mesmerising. The voices of both Catherine and Nan are strong - both complex characters, neither entirely likeable, but totally engaging. By the end of the book I felt I'd been through an emotional wringer and fought the storm myself - but I loved every moment.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Ann Weisgarber's debut novel The Personal History of Rachel Dupree was shortlisted for the Orange Award for New Writers and longlisted for the Orange Prize in 2009. Her second novel The Promise looks like it will attract similar plaudits.

Set in the US in 1900, we are told the story of young pianist Catherine Wainright who is left in desperate circumstances following an inappropriate liaison with a married man. Shunned by the "proper" folk of Dayton, Ohio she grasps at straws in an effort not to be totally "ruined". By reigniting a friendship with a former admirer she manages to rescue her reputation but this requires her moving a thousand miles away to Galveston Island, Texas. Her rescuer, recently widowed dairy farmer Oscar Williams is a quiet, reserved man but he does his utmost to help Catherine settle in.

This is a compelling read peopled with characters who will engage the reader. Catherine sticks out like a sore thumb with her townish ways but you feel for her as she struggles to adjust to reduced circumstances, a stifling climate and a grieving step-son, Andre. Whilst Oscar's housekeeper, Nan Ogden, does not overtly reject the new Mrs Williams she feels unable to give a wholly warm welcome to the newcomer.

I loved the vivid descriptions of the island and you get a very strong sense of the isolation of the islanders, always at the mercy of the elements, both the sweltering sun and the unpredictable waters. Equally prevalent in the story is the theme of music and how it affects people's emotions, creating a spark between Catherine and Oscar, building bridges between Catherine and Andre and, in Nan's case, resurrecting feelings she'd prefer to keep buried.

A powerful, moving story which is sure to garner even more fans for this talented author.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
For me the most powerful aspects of The Promise are the plot lines featuring Andre. The little boy is written with a huge amount of sensitivity and I couldn't help but feel empathy towards a child enduring such changing circumstances. Andre's resentment and uncertainty as he battles against the new woman in his father's life add a huge amount of depth to the plot. I also enjoyed the twisting and spiteful relationship between Nan and Catherine as they struggle for supremacy over the house, the man, their status and, of course, the child. Add to their differences a former wife, now sadly dead, whose memories are so fresh she seems to peek out from the shadow and you're only just beginning to reveal the outer layers of this complex fiction.

The characters of Catherine and Oscar, and their relationship, are developed through a series of revelations about their past and hopes for the future. Catherine has so much to live up to, much to change, whereas Oscar welcomes her straight into the heart of his family and accepts her as though she's always been there. Poor Andre is stuck in the centre of an emotional whirlwind as Nan and Catherine circle one another trying to establish boundaries and ownership.

I had no problem accepting the historical background to the novel. Both era and environment are well represented and written with confidence. I didn't enjoy the musical aspects quite so much but that's just a personal opinion and not a reflection on the quality of the writing. Music is important to both Catherine and Nan and has to have a part in their story.

Beautifully descriptive, well balanced and intelligent novel about the human heart and it's secrets.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a tightly-told tale, short but moving with a lovely melancholy mood throughout. Set in turn of the century America, the elements of this story aren't particularly revelatory: a forward-thinking, college educated woman who falls foul of convention, an arranged marriage, a triangle of two women and one man... but the way these motifs come together lift the book out of the ordinary.

Weisgarber writes beautifully, in lovely clean, precise, and uncluttered prose. Nothing feels forced, or awkward, or stretched, and the voices of her two female narrators are themselves indicative of character.

This starts off fairly slowly, but the gradual blossoming of the relationship between Catherine and Oscar is exquisitely done, moving with a delicate sensitivity towards a tragic dénouement.

This is a hushed, reflective book but one which is deceptively and quietly powerful.
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