The Pursuit of Elizabeth Millhouse | Book Review
The Pursuit of Elizabeth Millhouse is a period novel set in early twentieth century America telling the story of the title character, Elizabeth Millhouse Brown. Following Elizabeth’s path of childhood rejection, marriage, and the challenges of a life amidst change and loss, author Amanda Barber paints a superb picture of the realities of the difficulties in life during the early 20th century, difficulties that find many a parallel in our current context. In this gripping story of Elizabeth’s life, she is forced to face the tragedy and evil of death and rejection. Primarily covering the period between the First World War and the Roaring Twenties, Barber incorporates well the cultural and societal changes and struggles of period America. Throughout this story the reader encounters a number of literary and theological gems, allowing the opportunity to follow Elizabeth’s path from loss to redemption.
While the overarching message of this book comes across as strongly Christian, the Christianity remains more latent than explicit through much of the book. While there are prayers, references to God, and trips to churches, throughout most of the book Elizabeth rejects God and remains adverse to religion. Barber does an admirable job writing a novel that conveys a Christian message without writing an explicitly “Christian novel” in the way that many contemporary authors do. Barber also engages with a number of cultural topics, such as the suffrage movement and the feminism of Alexander Stonely. As far as social commentary within novels goes, it would have been nice to see these topics treated a little more concretely, though the persuasiveness of the novel allows for their relatively peripheral interaction with the central themes of the text.
Barber also does an excellent literary job in The Pursuit of Elizabeth Millhouse. The prose is smooth and flows well, the narrative contains excellent coherence, references to intertextuality, and the overall story is both interesting and compelling. Her use of “The Hound of Heaven” (by Francis Thompson), in particular, struck me as a good use of poetry. She uses the poem as the driving force of the unfolding narrative of Elizabeth’s life, while at the same time offering the reader some especially poignant moments for reflection within the narrative. Overall the work comes across as very real, with palpable descriptions, an exquisite attention to emotional detail, and an excellent balance of off-handedness and humor that make the novel read very much like a period journal.
Overall, I found The Pursuit of Elizabeth Millhouse to be a most enjoyable read. Barber has done a good job in writing a convincing and thought-provoking narrative that draws the reader into the central themes of the text. This work was a joy to read–though I’m fairly certain men in their twenties was not the primary demographic target of the author. I would encourage those interested in the cultural history of Christianity in America to pick this novel up, as the author does an excellent job portraying the time period. I would encourage everyone to consider picking this book up on Amazon, as works of fiction that contain both interesting and appropriate thought-provoking material are increasingly difficult to come across.
I received this book from Amanda Barber in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.