Audiobook Review: The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

27th June 2013

pg1*I received this audiobook from Penguin Audio in exchange for an honest review.

Honor Bright is a Quaker woman who is fleeing a broken engagement and following her sister to Ohio, where the sister will be married. Though Honor is violently ill on the journey over, it is her sister who succumbs to illness once they reach shore. Instead of facing another lengthy trip overseas home, Honor continues her trip to Ohio, to her sister’s intended, and to a new life in a strange country.

On the last leg of her journey, she meets Donovan, a slave hunter. Crude and disrespectful, Donovan is everything Honor is not. Yet he unsettles her, and she sees the good in him. Belle, his sister, is a milliner and takes Honor into her home, offering her a spot to grieve for her sister while she waits for her sister’s fiancee, who must travel from the next town over. Belle is rough, but again, Honor sees Belle’s beautiful hats and stitchwork and knows Belle is a kindred spirit. Honor isn’t boastful, but she is adept with a needle, and Belle offers her work, stitching in quiet solitude, just what Honor needs to acclimate to America.

Once she reaches Faithwell, she finds the Quaker community much different from her own. She marries relatively quickly, in many ways just so that he has somewhere to belong. Her journey has changed her, but her new family constricts that growth. Honor has never seen a slave until she reaches America, but her community doesn’t rail against slavery as she wishes. After a runaway stumbles onto her new family’s property, Honor decides she must help the slaves, even against the wishes of her stalwart mother in law.

Honor Bright is a study in juxtaposition. She is faithful, but she also has strong beliefs, and when those beliefs butt up against the people of her community, she takes a stand. She struggles against the strictures her mother in law imposes, making decisions she herself is surprised at, all in the name of her newfound beliefs.

Though the quilting descriptions and their significance in the Quaker community was interesting, to a point, the endless descriptions of the stitches and what an excellent quilter Honor is were tedious. This is particularly apparent in an audiobook.

However, this is also an example of how good narration can save a book from an otherwise tepid response. Kate Reading narrates Tracy Chevalier’s The Last Runaway, and as with anyone whose name isn’t Simon Vance, it takes me a bit to grow accustomed to the voice reading me a story. But as I continued to listen (on a road trip to Dallas), Reading absolutely caught me with her pacing, use of accents, and intonation.

A quiet but consuming read from the eyes of an outsider both to the country and to the American Quaker community, The Last Runaway is absorbing historical fiction.

Add this to your shelf on Goodreads.

  • Jennifer Hartling

    I’ve been meaning to get to this book. Sigh. One day!!

    • Isn’t that all of us? 🙂

  • Hmmm. I bet this would be the perfect book for my nerdy friends who quilt and craft. I am with you – I think the descriptions of quilting and stitching would probably do me in, but it would really appeal to those who pursue those hobbies. Thanks for sharing your review!

    • Your poor nerdy friends. 😉

      Yes, the descriptions were split for me. I found the meaning behind them and the cultural traditions fascinating. The endless talk of Honor’s skill, however, was grating.

  • Andi

    It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything by Chevalier, but this might be a good place to pick back up.

    • Now I need to go back and see what all she’s written. It’s been a while since I’ve read anything by her.

  • JoAnn @ Lakeside Musing

    I’m about half way through the audiobook now and am laughing at your comment “as with anyone whose name isn’t Simon Vance, it takes me a bit to grow accustomed to the voice”… it just so happens my second audiobook is Tess of the D’Urbervilles narrated by Simon Vance. 🙂

    • You will LOVE Simon Vance’s narration. He’s just so darn good.

  • I have this as a book — I’m split on Chevalier’s novels — I like some, hate others. Will be curious to see if the stichery is tedious in print!

    • I haven’t read all that many, so I can’t say.

  • Jennifer @ Librarian Eats

    As a quilter who originally hails from Ohio – this book was a huge hit with me. I thought it was absolutely fantastic. It was also my first introduction to Chevalier. I look forward to more in the future.

    • Your first Chevalier? Now you have so much to look forward to! I loved Girl With a Pearl Earring.

  • iliana

    I’ve really enjoyed Tracy Chevalier’s books but I’ve been a bit unsure about this one because of the setting. I just always expect a historical set in Europe! Glad to hear you enjoyed it!

    • I did. Parts were slow, as I said, but overall, I thought it was good.

  • Julia

    I found this review interesting because I’ve tried to read this book before but just couldn’t connect with the characters. Maybe I should try it again in audiobook format. Love your blog design!

    • Do it! It was a bit repetitive, which probably would have annoyed me more in print than in audio. And thanks!