Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Fellowship of the Worms: The House Girl

One of my favorite blogs I follow is Words for Worms. Katie reads a lot of the same books as me but she is way better at this whole blogger thing. She also hosts a monthly book club read called The Fellowship of the Worms and this month, I finally got to participate. She posts the questions, I post my answers, and then I link up. If you've read The House Girl, you should too! 

I'm not sure where I first heard of this book but when Katie announced the book for this month, I was pleasantly surprised that it was one from my TBR list and one I already owned. Score! I did not expect to enjoy this book as much as I did but I found myself talking about it to random people and sharing the summary with them and recommending it to them. I think that is a sign of a good book. I've listed and answered Katie's questions below but I did so based on info from the whole book and that you have read it with me. If you haven't read the book and want to avoid spoilers, read it, then come back! Fair warning!

The House GirlTitle: The House Girl
Author: Tara Conklin
Read: March 27, 2014

SummaryVirginia, 1852. Seventeen-year-old Josephine Bell decides to run from the failing tobacco farm where she is a slave and nurse to her ailing mistress, the aspiring artist Lu Anne Bell. New York City, 2004. Lina Sparrow, an ambitious first-year associate in an elite law firm, is given a difficult, highly sensitive assignment that could make her career: she must find the “perfect plaintiff” to lead a historic class-action lawsuit worth trillions of dollars in reparations for descendants of American slaves.

It is through her father, the renowned artist Oscar Sparrow, that Lina discovers Josephine Bell and a controversy roiling the art world: are the iconic paintings long ascribed to Lu Anne Bell really the work of her house slave, Josephine? A descendant of Josephine’s would be the perfect face for the reparations lawsuit—if Lina can find one. While following the runaway girl’s faint trail through old letters and plantation records, Lina finds herself questioning her own family history and the secrets that her father has never revealed: How did Lina’s mother die? And why will he never speak about her?

Moving between antebellum Virginia and modern-day New York, this searing, suspenseful and heartbreaking tale of art and history, love and secrets, explores what it means to repair a wrong and asks whether truth is sometimes more important than justice. goodreads

The Fellowship of the Worms Questions

1. The House Girl is told in a dual narrative, switching back and forth between Lina in modern day NYC and Josephine in 1852 Virginia. In addition to the two major narrators, there are a number of additional characters advancing the story through letters. Did you enjoy the multiple perspectives? Did you find it added or detracted from the story Conklin was trying to tell? 

A lot of people hate the dual narratives but they really don't bother me and in this book, I really enjoyed it. It was hard at times to get so wrapped up in the old south and then switch back to the dog-eat-dog world of law in NYC but overall, I really liked hearing their different stories. It also provided great foreshadowing because sometimes Lina would know further into the story than Josephine and vice versa. Without the dual narrative, I don't think I would have connected with Josephine and Lina like I did. I can't imagine how you could tell this story with only the letters and evidence from the past instead of a first hand perspective. The multiple narratives may not work in all books but in this one, it definitely did!

2. Do you think that Lu Anne intentionally passed off Josephine’s art work as her own? Do you think she would have done things differently had she known the notoriety the art would eventually garner? 

It sounded to me like Lu Anne really enjoyed her drawings and intended to complete them but eventually, Josephine would step in to help or finalize something. I may be wrong, but it didn't sound intentional to me. It sounded more collaborative initially and then Josephine went on to do her own work. I'd also assume that neither one them knew how famous their art would eventually be and they didn't document what was what. It's also important to remember that by the end, Lu Anne was very sick and delirious through most of it and she may not have realized how much of the work Josephine really did. I have a soft spot for Lu Anne and I think she tried to do what was best for Josephine even though the ways she went about it weren't all that great. Therefore, my soft spot says it was not intentional.

3. Lina is the daughter of the artsiest artists in all the land, and yet she chose to pursue a career in law. What in her upbringing to you think helped spur her decision to choose a career so based in reason? 

I think it has to be difficult to be raised by artists and it seems like Lina had a lot of different views compared to her parents. I find that if a child is raised by parents in one extreme, they tend to grow up to do the opposite. I'm not sure what the reasoning is behind this other than she valued her type of success over what her father did. I also don't remember hearing too much about Lina's artistic ability and she may not have explored those options because she was so wrapped up in her parents' abilities. It felt as though Lina saw a lot of flaws in the way Oscar lived his life and she didn't want to repeat them.

4. As a house slave, Josephine walks a lonely road. How does her unique status contribute to her desire to run?

I can't imagine how lonely Josephine was. Here she was a slave, yet the other slaves didn't accept her and she damn sure was not part of the family in the house. There is no one to vent to or lean on in that position and that isolation has to be crippling. Even in the end, she tried to find someone to run with her and couldn't find a companion. Josephine wanted more out of life but I also think that her desire to have interactions with people similar to her contributed to her running.

5. How did you feel when Oscar dropped the bombshell about what really happened to Lina’s mother Grace?

Initially, I was pissed off!! I couldn't believe he lied to her all these years and had her go through that grief. Once I thought about it more, I kind of started to understand it. She would have had to deal with grief regardless but this way, she may not internalize it as much as she would if she knew that her mom left her by choice all those years ago. I think Oscar was trying to protect Lina from all the feelings that he had which probably revolved around questioning why he wasn't good enough and what he did wrong. A child would have those same questions but they would make them a permanent part of their self-image and that could do more damage than the loss of a loved one. It's a hard situation and I think Oscar meant well but who knows if it was the right choice.

Link up with Katie and share your thought on this book or read it if you haven't. I loved it!


  1. SPOILERS COMING!!!! Hi Emily! I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post! Thank you so much for linking up with the Fellowship! You bring up an interesting point about the whole Grace/Lina thing. The grief would be different knowing your mother left intentionally rather than due to circumstances beyond her control. The whole time I really thought they were just going to reveal Grace's suicide which is part of why I was so shocked!

    1. I really enjoyed linking up and having some prompts to guide my thoughts about this book, so thank you! The whole time I was waiting to hear that it was a suicide as well and was surprised to found out that not only did she make the choice to leave, but she was alive and Oscar had a contact number! I would have loved for that reunion to have been part of the story but I'll just have to use my imagination... Looking forward to next month's Fellowship!