Why We Love It:
Alice Hoffman’s strong female characters lead the way in a magical novel about love, destiny and breaking the rules. The Marriage of Opposites is a mesmerising story that immerses you in another time and place, so that you won’t want this novel to end.
Rachel Pomié is born into a French Jewish family on a remote Caribbean island, St Thomas, where she dreams of rain, Paris, and escaping the rigid rules of her conservative community. She feels trapped by the limits imposed by her embittered mother and her mother’s friends, who disapprove of Rachel’s outspoken nature. Rachel does as she pleases, breaking the strict social mores, befriending her African cook’s daughter, talking to ghosts and watching the turtles lay their eggs on the beach in the middle of the night.
Her youth is soon shattered when she is married off to a man twice her age with three children – all for the good of the family business. By the time she is thirty she is a widow and mother of seven. Once her parents have passed, she inherits nothing, has no control over her life and is subject to the whim of the family in France. But everything changes when her deceased husband’s nephew arrives from France to sort out the family business…
Rachel’s most cherished child, Camille, takes after his mother. Like her, he’s rebellious, and he avoids his studies to go about the island sketching. He cares only about “light, colour, bone structure, the movement of the leaves on lime trees…” But unlike his mother, he leaves the island when he is sent to Paris at the age of 12.
Alice Hoffman’s story is inspired by the real life mother of the ‘Father of Impressionism’, the painter Camille Pissarro. Hoffman has taken some of the historical elements and weaved a delectable, entrancing tale around his mother’s life and her passionate love affair that scandalised the community.
Her vivid and luscious descriptions of the colourful world of the Caribbean, combined with the very real frustrations felt by women and non-Europeans of the time, are sharp and focused.
Alice Hoffman is the author of New York Times Bestselling novels, The Museum of Extraordinary Things and The Dovekeepers. The latest in her stunning brand of magical realism will persuade anyone new to her writing to discover more.