"A dazzling piece of literary sorcery" -- David Lynn, editor the Kenyon Review
"Among the Best Books of 2008" -- Katherine Graham, Vine Voice
"Finalist, ForeWord Book of the Year"
From Vine Voice : Katherine's Wish: A Masterpiece! Among Best Books for 2008
"One would not have believed it possible for any author to crystallize the essence of the ever-elusive and mystically-brilliant Katherine Mansfield into a wholly accurate account of her final days within the genre of literary fiction. Yet, Linda Lappin has done it with grace, style, elegance, rivetting prose (at times so gorgeously poetic it rivals the great writing of Mansfield herself). Indeed, the entire aesthetic of the book is a work of art - from the cover art, layout to the last page - all is so beautifully rendered. This book deserves recognition from the highest order from those with the clout to rank it among the best books written in 2008...or any time, readers are lucky enough to purchase a classic for all seasons. "Katherine's Wish" for that stature of her life and work is most certainly granted here. "--Katherine Graham, Vine Voice
Praise from the Literary Review for KATHERINE’S WISH
The more Katherine Mansfield approaches death, the more she comes to life in Linda Lappin’s Katherine’s Wish. That’s not to say that she isn’t a vivid character from the very first paragraphs of the novel, in 1918, on a train pulling its way through a blizzard, trapped in a compartment “pervaded by the sickening smell of mothballs, perspiration, and wet galoshes,” taking “short, tremulous breaths to keep herself from coughing.” This initial image of her in a coffin-like carriage on a frantic journey to Mediterranean sun, in pain, immersed in white embodies her condition and the struggles she will face throughout the next four years in a desperate and futile effort to stay alive.
Many luminaries populate the novel, from D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf to the more rarified characters, such as Chekhov translator S.S. Koteliansky, Lady Ottoline, and P.D. Ouspensky, along with Katherine’s intimates, her wealthy, distant father, Ida Constance Baker, her smitten, service companion since childhood, her self-absorbed, philandering husband, John Middleton Murry, and his mistresses.
Lappin spent nearly two decades researching and writing Katherine’s Wish, as evidenced by the consequent specificity and vivid details. The interiors of the many rooms and the exteriors of the many landscapes are described with a cinematic richness: “This cool, wet August had plumped the blackberries on the bushes along the garden wall. She could almost taste their tartness with her eyes, but the leaves of the willows were edged in brown . . .” This is hardly a typical costume drama, decorated with dusty artifacts and burdened by the mythology of its famous protagonists.
Of particular note is Lappin’s ability to create original portrayals of Woolf and Lawrence, a fresh way of seeing people whose identities are almost clichés, as in this meeting between Mansfield and Woolf:
Conversations with Virginia were agonizingly slow to ignite. One had to break through the cocoon of isolation Virginia spun around herself, with her perfect demeanor, her flawless chitchat, even those ludicrous hats and dresses she wore were a deterrent to keeping others from coming too close.
But most crucial is the evocation of Katherine’s consumption, the painful stages of her dying, her struggles for survival, her growing debilitation. Lappin reveals the spots on the lungs, the dysentery and fevers, the “ominous heaving rumble” of her coughing. Ultimately, she makes readers care about a writer dead for more than eighty years, and share Katherine’s own wish that she could live forever. Lappin’s achievement is to succeed where medicine failed and, through her words, give Katherine Mansfield ongoing life. --Walter Cummins
Praise for KATHERINE'S WISH from the South China Morning Post
Katherine Mansfield wrote many resonant short stories but her enduring appeal is owing to other factors. She was one of the first colonials to establish herself at the centre of London literary life; she had affairs
with people of both sexes, which created an aura of scandal, and died early, at 34 in 1923, which added to her myth.
American author Linda Lappin has undertaken a daunting task in her novel about Mansfield. The trouble with fictional biographies of real people
is readers often know the outlines of the story and are not given new insights into the characters: in this case, Mansfield's friend D.H. Lawrence
is, as expected, both colourful and cussed while, again as expected, her handsome husband, literary critic Middleton Murry, is indecisive and
But Lappin, wearing 15 years of research into Mansfield lightly, rises to the challenges.
Instead of trying to trace Mansfield's whole life Lappin focuses on the last four years, when she was trying to write as much as possible before
her likely death from consumption. Her contradictory Mansfield, both irritable and sensitive, is convincingly complex.
The highlight of Katherine's Wish is Mansfield's relationship with her lifelong friend Ida Baker, who is clumsy, dull and necessary. It is hard to
tell whether Ida's devotion is altruistic or an attempt to possess Katherine. Her stolidity is a splendid foil for Katherine's flighty
brilliance. Katherine is exasperated by Ida: "Her breaking things. Her inane conversation. Her appalling ignorance. Her maudlin tears. Her suffocating
care." Here is Ida fumbling with change: "Katherine knew she should be grateful, yet Ida's every awkward gesture, every little blunder jarred her
nerves." But they stayed together almost to the end, with Katherine frequently screaming in exasperation at Ida and later suffering remorse because she
recognised that she could not have written 10 words in her last years, "if Ida had not been there to make the tea, boil the eggs, rush back and forth
with her hot-water bottles, however tepid, and keep her supplied with stamps and milk and bread, while she lay wrapped in blankets".
Lappin's novel begins in 1918 and follows Mansfield as she moves to and from London and the wartime Italian and French rivieras, where she
sought relief from her tuberculosis. She falls into the hands of a charlatan whose alleged cure worsens her condition. Finally she reaches a villa at Fontainebleau, France, where she entrusts herself to Russian guru Georges Gurdjieff. There is a ghastly irony in the fact that she died within three
months, suffering a haemorrhage after running up stairs to show her husband how well she was.
Lappin's intensely imagined novel will satisfy readers unfamiliar with Mansfield as well as those already intrigued by her. --Desmond O'Grady
Katherine's Wish Reviewed in Perigee
Full of early 20th century unrest and color, Katherine's Wish transports us to war-era Europe, where the ailing Katherine Mansfield frequently travels to escape Britain's harsh winters. Ruthlessly compelled by her creative urges, Mansfield rejects conventional treatment for her tuberculosis, appreciating that a sanatorium denies her solitude and imposes a rest cure, both of which would prevent her from writing. She is an artist, stalked by poverty and disease, with a Keatsian drive to "[glean her] teeming brain" before time runs out, writing more than twenty-three short stories, including the frequently anthologized "Miss Brill," between 1918 and her death in 1924. For Mansfield, "Work was the only consolation for the new state of things. Writing was a second breath, a second chance."
It took over twenty years for novelist Linda Lappin to complete her fictional biography on Katherine Mansfield, and the payoff for us is a captivating tale of Katherine's Wish to live, chronicling the period when she became intensely aware of her mortality and rebelled against the disease that eventually consumed her, the period that came to define her as a fighter with savage courage—the last five years of her life. A master story-teller, Lappin weaves a tale that is triumphant, genuine and tender in its unfolding. With vivid details and imagery born of careful research, she brings Mansfield to life, her voice so clear and authentic we are convinced that she is more than Lappin's character. She is Mansfield: sexually reckless, socially excitable, temperamentally damaged, spiteful and cruel, appealing and vulnerable. She is Mansfield—a tragic and unconventional heroine.
Lappin tells Mansfield's story through an old Shakespearean technique—various points of view. Katherine's Wish is a 3rd person account fashioned from Mansfield's life, letters, and journal entries as well as those of her philandering and egocentric husband, John Middleton Murry, and her irritating but loyal companion, Ida Constance Baker. The interplay of these three differing perspectives lends credibility to Lappin's depiction of her characters, particularly Mansfield, reducing what in so many other fictional biographies feels like forced or affected character development. We see Mansfield for what she was—a flawed and self-absorbed human being as are most artists. Ego feeds art. Self-absorption is just one of the means used to access that elusive place where art lives within the meditating psyche. And because we recognize the value and genius of this particular artist cut down at only 34, we forgive Mansfield her selfish egotism. In fact, we care about her and wonder what more she might have contributed to literature had she not died so young.
Lappin's skillful blend of fact and fiction leaves us entertaining the possibility that Katherine's Wish is more biography than novel. It is an honest, uncompromising, and insightful view into Mansfield, the culture that molded her, and the people who surrounded her. It is also a fast-paced and fully rewarding read.
ADVANCE PRAISE FOR KATHERINE’S WISH
Katherine’s Wish is a beautifully observed novel. Linda Lappin has created far more than a haunting portrait of Katherine Mansfield, that subtlest and most modern of writers—it’s as if the unfinished stories, notes jotted in journals or letters suddenly coalesced. Katherine’s Wish grants the writer’s own final wish to give permanent shape to the arc of a life in which the creative and the personal are inseparable. The novel reveals a core truth: that Mansfield’s was not so much
a creative life cut short as one that flourished so long against all odds. —Alexandra Johnson, author of The Hidden Writer
Katherine’s Wish , fifteen years in the making, is a dazzling bit of fictional sorcery, conjuring to life the bright and talented swirl of modern society in the 1920s.Katherine Mansfield, John Middleton Murry, Virginia Woolf—these vibrant individuals who created a rich universe such as had never been known before -live in the pages of Linda Lappin’s latest novel with a fierceness of energy and intellect and yearning. This novel is a must read, whether you have historical interests per se or only enjoy a story so compelling and moving that there’s no putting it down. I certainly couldn’t!” —David Lynn, editor, the Kenyon Review
The author of two critically successful historical novels, Prisoner of Palmary and The Etruscan , Linda Lappin turns her gifted hand to fictional biography in Katherine’s Wish. Short-lived and so poignantly, if not tragically, dedicated to the art of fiction as Romantic poets once lived and died for the Muse, the unconventional Katherine Mansfield is brought to life in this novel of 1918 to 1923, encompassing her marriage to British critic John Middleton Murry, her travels across war-devastated Europe, and her death by tuberculosis
at the spiritual asylum in Fontainebleau run by G. I. Gurdjieff. Like the “new biography” of Lytton Strachey and analogous fiction by Virginia Woolf, Lappin’s
fictional life of Mansfield recreates the ineffable, “rainbow-like” essence of a human being from the inside perspective of three people: Mansfield herself, her
traveling companion Ida Baker, and Murry. The factual basis of Lappin’s work is scrupulously researched so that the milieu, or social and literary context, seems to come alive, too. Even away from London, in the chapter “Hotel Beau Rivage, 1918,” for example, Bloomsbury beckons, heightening the longing as
well as the pain of separation.
—Wayne K. Chapman, editor, The South Carolina Review