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Novel set in KENT, LONDON, PARIS

18th April 2024

Estella’s Revenge by Barbara Havelocke, novel set in Kent, London, Paris.

Novel set in KENT, LONDON, PARIS

You might guess, and you’d be right, that Barbara Havelocke’s novel Estella’s Revenge is centred on the character from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. If your first thought is that Dickens has a reputation for being long-winded and dull, don’t worry: that’s not this book! Estella’s Revenge is not written in imitation of Dickens’ style. Instead it is an engaging and original account that develops the story of Great Expectations and tells it from Estella’s perspective, also examining her complex character. She is a lively, confident and strong young woman – but she knows her own flaws.

From childhood, Estella learns to break men’s hearts, instructed by her adoptive mother, Miss Havisham, who was jilted by her fiancé. Estella is aware that it’s not the right thing to do and that the people she is cruel to don’t deserve it. On the other hand, she must please Miss Havisham, because her very existence depends on it. So from a very young age she begins by practising on her young playmate, Pip. Estella must also outwit her scheming relations, the Pocketts, who see her as an obstacle to inheriting Miss Havisham’s wealth and will stop at nothing to remove her.

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Virginia Woolf said, “A feminist is any woman who tells the truth about her life.” By that token, this is a feminist book, because Estella recounts with brutal honesty the cruelty that she inflicts on men.. At times she seems more of an activist heroine and at others a tormented soul who painfully acknowledges the weaknesses in her character. She knows that these result from her upbringing and her circumstances. Her version of feminism results from her confident outlook, believing that she can get by in the world without needing men. Until she meets her match.

Estella describes her dilemma: “I often felt pulled in all directions by what I wanted. My desire for love and my by-then automatic rejection of it. A longing for freedom, against a genuine desire to please Mother, which meant following her plan. Growing up, stacked against desperation to remain stuck in time. Spying on Pip while feeling ashamed of my weakness.”

Barbara Havelocke is an accomplished author of psychological thrillers, and this is evident here. There is action and suspense, beautifully balanced with Estella’s introspection. Estella’s Revenge doesn’t have the same multitude of characters as Great Expectations, which is a good thing. Nevertheless, it’s delightful to recognise some of Dickens’ well-known characters and famous phrases. Lovers of his work will very likely enjoy it for this reason. It isn’t necessary to have read Great Expectations, or to remember much of it, if you have. This book stands on its own merits.

Each of the settings in Estella’s Revenge is described with perfect attention to detail, from the vast, dangerous Kent marshes to the elegant London balls where appearances and etiquette were so important. Themes of darkness and light are explored, both literally – for example, in the darkened rooms of Satis House – and metaphorically, in the souls of the characters. I highly recommend that you read it to find out whether Estella learns to forgive herself – and others – for the way she is and finds happiness. Also to discover the secrets that Satis House hides. And as for Pip; Reader, does she marry him?

[Barbara Havelocke also writes under the name Barbara Coppperthwaite]

Barbara Copperthwaite/Havelocke on Twitter @BCopperthwait and on Instagram @barbaracopperthwaite

Sue for the TripFiction Team

Catch our reviewer Sue on TwitterX @SueKelsoRyan and on IG @SueKelosRyan

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