This series is very interesting because it records four sisters' tellings of the same story. It's a brilliant way of writing and, as far as I know, it's the first time that this has ever been done in the world of fiction writing. There are four Purcell sisters: Sarah, Gwen, Julia, and Frances.
The story starts with Sarah-the youngest-nicknamed "Mouse". She is the always-forgotten little sister. The story begins just after the death of the Purcell sisters' mother. A famous painter, as soon as her husband died, she lost the will to live. The Purcells are taken under the wing of the kindly vicar, Mr. Mckenzie, and his domineering wife. The Mckenzies have 3 sons, who feature heavily in this book.
The three eldest of the sisters are all serious artists, but Sarah appears to have no talent, until she realizes how much she loves to write. It is this love of writing that drives her to many new experiences.
The book was heartbreakingly sad at places-something that I don't tend to like-but for some reason I wasn't fazed in the least. This book captured me and I fell in love at once.
The sisters are wildly different. Frances is tempestuous and the most brilliant painter of them all. She fights constantly with her sisters, Mrs. Mckenzie, and her love interest, Gabriel Mckenzie. We don't hear much from Gwen and Julia. In fact, I'm looking forward to hearing more about them in future novels. Sarah is, of course, the main character, so we hear quite a lot from her.
From her failed attempt at a boarding school to her adoration-from-afar of Gabriel Mckenzie, to her friendship with the family maid, Sarah is a lively, 3-dimensional character. I think that Harris's gift may lie in writing truly brilliant characters. Sarah and Frances, in particular, felt so alive to me as I read this story.
Harris's other gift is seamlessly incorporating fiction into history. A main focus of the book is WWI. The Mckenzie boys go off to the war and there is frequent mention of world events going on in the context of their little village. There is a breathtakingly sad part where one of the Mckenzie boys tells Sarah about the horrible flashbacks he gets and the noises he hears- PTSD, although they didn't know about that at the time.
This book did have a lot of elements that were similar to Little Women, but I wouldn't call it "the new Little Women". For instance, the book is quite a bit darker than Little Women. Although both were set during war times, the war was much more in the background in Little Women. Also, this book had a more adult tone than Little Women, even though it was about girls. The problems and events were adult-scale and even Sarah, who is 11 at the start of the book, is seen through grown up eyes. But I still loved the book for itself.
I would recommend this book to anybody who likes a gently gripping life saga. This story was pure enjoyment to read and I can't wait to get my hands on the second in the series.