Reviewed by Margaret Tomlinson
Bear no Malice is a love story set in Edwardian England about
a clergyman oppressed by guilty secrets, and a woman who lives in seclusion with
her brother to escape the shame of having been seduced and abandoned by another
clergyman. The story begins in 1907, when Tom, a cathedral canon, is beaten and
left to die in a woods near Miranda and Simon's cottage. Kind-hearted Miranda
finds him unconscious and insists on helping him, despite Simon's concern that
it could jeopardize their safety.
takes the length of the novel for Tom and Miranda to realize they're in love.
Readers may sometimes feel exasperated by their obtuseness in keeping so many
secrets from each other and for imagining their feelings are not shared. Edwardian
England was a place of rigid outward propriety; the threat of a newspaper-fed
scandal or of gossip spreading through a church kept lips sealed. A woman's
reputation might be shattered, leaving her unable to marry, one of the few
avenues of economic survival available to her. A man's career, especially in a
religious profession, might be ruined. Modern readers used to a permissive
culture and social media's casual revelations, may need a bit more help than
the story offers to immerse themselves in the fears and habits of the very
different culture of England more than a century ago.
That said, readers who enjoy a tender love story will want to keep turning pages to learn these characters' secrets and find out whether and how they come together. Kind, vulnerable Miranda is especially likeable. Tom, more complex and flawed, may win readers' interest more quickly and easily than he wins their sympathy. Readers of Clarissa Harwood's previous novel, Impossible Saints, will recognize him as a secondary character from that novel; a secondary character in this novel, Paul Harris, was a main character in the other. An interesting twist is the transformation of Tom from villain in that book to a character to root for in Bear No Malice. (2018; 357 pages, including an Author's Note on the history behind the novel)More about Bear No Malice at Powell's Books or Amazon