Hannah Brown has delivered a brilliant story in her debut novel Look After Her. It is a story about two sisters who are kidnapped by a family friend and sold to a brothel after the death of their parents. Set in Vienna and later in Italy and England, Brown transports readers to a time period before the beginning of the Second World War.
At the brothel, Hedy and Susannah share the same room where callers visit them: “…the idea of two girls in one room continued to appeal to Vienna’s voyeurs and exhibitionists.” (118).
In her well-crafted scenes, Brown brings out compassion and sadness in the reader. One powerful passage is when the family friend rapes Hedy. Despite the horror Hedy goes through, her only concern is for her younger sister Susannah. “I grabbed at his hand. He hit me, the back of his hand, the front of his hand. His knee shoved between my legs. His awful groaning. It hurt. “Please don’t wake my sister”.” (46). Another particular heart-breaking chapter is when the conductors on a train assault Hedy, who has long since escaped from the brothel and is now escaping from Vienna only to be abused all over again: “Something, a muscle, was torn. He slapped me. It was black and then there were stars.” (415). It is this powerful writing that engages the reader and elicits an emotional reaction.
This large and ambitious novel deals with uneasy topics yet Brown balances the horror with poetic and beautiful prose. “On the street below, coiled sheets, like a snake’s skin, shed.” (198) and “We walked under stucco arches that reached across the streets, their architectural gestures tense and delicate.” (281).
Brown also depicts the themes of sisterhood and excellently creates a loving, yet at times suffocating, relationship between the sisters. Susannah wants her independence and Hedy wants her sister by her side so she can “look after her” as she promised her dying mother. Furthermore, the novel introduces intriguing characters like Moreno, who conducts a therapy group where the sisters meet George, Hedy’s love interest. However, despite the fascinating portrayal of Moreno, the therapy scenes are leisurely paced and slow the narrative. Excitement builds again with the escape from the brothel and the alternating chapters between the sisters who have created new lives for themselves. With new beginnings, there is hope and this is what Brown offers her readers.
- Look After Her by Hannah Brown
- Paperback: 448 pages
- ISBN-10: 1771336730
- ISBN-13: 978-1771336734
- Publisher: Inanna Poetry & Fiction Series (Sept. 30 2019)
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