Timeless Tour: Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley

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I own a number of Susanna Kearsley’s books, but Bellewether is the first one I’ve actually read. Now it certainly won’t be the last, and it means I will finally pull the ones I own off my shelf to happily read since I know they will provide wonderful reading experiences.

Bellewether is one of four books for Simon & Schuster Canada’s Timeless Tour and is:

A rich, haunting tale about the tangled bonds of love and family during times of political unrest, from New York Times bestselling author Susanna Kearsley. In Long Island, the centuries old legend of Lydia Wilde’s doomed love affair and the Wilde family ship, Bellewether, lures Charlotte Van Hoek into the Wilde House Museum—and all of its intricate secrets. Charlotte sets out to find the truth—and discovers the legend is only a piece of the whole story.

Normally when I’m reading a book with dual storylines, one becomes a preference over the other. This was not the case for Bellewether, as I enjoyed both time-frames equally. Well…perhaps maybe the modern-day storyline edged the historical just a tiny, wee little bit, but really, both storylines are excellent.

It’s 1759 when we meet Lydia Wilde and her family. Her father has announced they will be taking in two French soldiers to live with them on a “parole of honour”, putting Lydia at unease as her brother Joseph has returned from the war despondent. She does not think it fair to him to have French soldiers in their home knowing of Joseph’s state of mind after returning home. These past storylines are told from Jean-Philippe and Lydia’s perspectives and build to tell of their love affair that turned into legend for the Wilde House.

Some houses seem to want to hold their secrets.

It’s 1759 and the world is at war, pulling the North American colonies of Britain and France into the conflict. The times are complicated, as are the loyalties of many New York merchants who have secretly been trading with the French for years, defying Britain’s colonial laws in a game growing ever more treacherous.

Charley has been hired as the curator for the Wilde House and is tasked with opening the museum for the public, and in particular showcasing the history of Benjamin Wilde, everyone’s favourite dashing hero of the Revolution. The main folklore that surrounds Wilde House is because of him and his history. We’re also told that Charley’s family name is one that is connected yet controversial to the area, and that she’s leaving behind her (unlikeable) boyfriend for a two-year stint to curate the museum. She is told about the loveable ghost story that comes with the Wilde House about the doomed love affair between Lydia and the French soldier Jean-Philippe. There is a specific story the Board of Directors want for Wilde House and Charley is to continue to tell that particular history. It is the most romanticized one and doesn’t rock any boats and maintains the pretty and romantic history. 

Their doomed romance becomes a local legend, told and re-told through the years until the present day, when conflict of a different kind brings Charley Van Hoek to Long Island to be the new curator of the Wilde House Museum.

I’m not going to go through a rehashing of the plot and story here. I’m sure that’s been read already so I’ll instead talk more about my thoughts on Bellewether overall. It’s purely positive and this was one of my favourites of the Timeless Tour bunch. I loved the short chapters moving back and forth in time and the slow reveal of Lydia’s and Charley’s narratives. I loved Charley for her tenacity in pushing to dig deeper into the Wilde history and her pressing to make sure the full and accurate story was told to the public. As she delves into this history, the revelation that the Wilde’s story has been altered, or specific aspects of it have been hidden, or their surface has only been scratched in order to suit a story that is best told – best suits what the majority wants. The story that has haunted the museum turns out to not be the true story. This history has been cleansed to take away the ugly. So Bellewether really left me thinking of how we read history, how it is altered and massaged to present the best possible story.

And,  just like Grace and Rudi in Come From Away, the attraction and feelings of love are complicated between Lydia and Jean-Phillipe – just as the Germans have ripped Grace’s family apart, so have the French for Lydia’s. Both of these romances are doomed and complicated, therefore using these two books for the Timeless Tour is perfection!

I loved the endings for both of the storylines of Lydia and Charley. When Charley finds out the true story behind Lydia and Jean-Phillipe it is truly a genuinely satisfying end to their love story. I did have one quibble when reading though, and it was just that there are no dates to establish their exact timelines. We really only know that the historical timelines begins in 1759, but that is only discovered if you read the back of the book. The modern time-frame had no date set for it at all. Is it 2016? 2006? I found not having that as a marker frustrated me. Just a little quibble, nothing serious in the overall enjoyment of Bellewether because I thoroughly enjoyed this and look forward to finally reading the other Susanna Kearsley’s on my shelf.

Here is another cover of Bellewether and it’s just beautiful! With the tree shown at night and the twinkle lights it gives a hint of the trees/woods that is a strong tie-in to the story and the folklore associated with Lydia and Philippe.

As I said already, Bellewether was one of my favourites from this Tour and I hope when you read it you’ll fall in love with it as much as I did.