Title: Helen Keller in Love
Author: Rosie Sultan
Narrator: Christine Williams
Published: April 2012
Published By: Blackstone Audiobooks
Format Read: Audio Book
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Historical Romance
Date Read: October 29 2015
The story of Helen Keller’s life is widely known. Rendered blind and mute by a childhood illness, Helen with the guidance of her teacher Annie Sullivan would grow up to become an author, lecturer and political activist.
After doing some research, author Rosie Sultan came across information mentioning that Helen had been engaged at one point during her life, but little was known about the relationship. This information inspired her to write a fictional account of Helen’s engagement to a man named Peter Fagan.
Readers are taken back to a time when World War I was ravaging Europe, speaking engagements and aid from wealthy friends are the only things keeping Helen and Annie afloat. Then Annie comes down with tuberculosis and reluctantly hires a secretary to assist Helen in her day to day tasks. Unbeknownst to Annie, Helen and her secretary Peter would fall in love, sneaking off to be alone whenever they got a chance. Their love would remain a secret because according to Helen’s family and beliefs of that time period, it wasn’t suitable for a woman with a disability to marry.
|A young Helen and Annie. Image from Biography.com|
Why I Chose to Read Helen Keller in Love
I remember writing a report back in elementary school about Helen Keller and finding her story to be very interesting. I knew she lived to be a ripe old age, but most of what I had learned centred around her childhood, like in the Miracle Worker. The iconic image of Helen and her teacher at the water pump sticks out in my mind. I knew that she had never married or had children, so the indication of a relationship peaked my curiosity.
|Helen and Annie demonstrating how they communicate. Image from Biography.com|
Known for being a strong minded political activist, this World War I setting gave a great backdrop to this love story. Especially due in part to Peter Fagan being an outspoken journalist himself. Despite the seriousness of the time and the threat of contagious disease, the tone of this novel was lighthearted. The devotion Helen and Annie shared for each other was quite touching and I enjoyed listening to their interactions.
Although Helen Keller in Love is a work of fiction, the author did include many real quotes and tidbits about the woman’s life. These inclusions were among my favourite parts of the novel. Sultan as does a good job of retelling Helen’s biography, which would be helpful for anyone who may not be familiar with her story. Told from her point of view, I would sometimes forget that she was disabled at all. She had such a strong mind, opinions and dreams that it was quite sad she wasn’t able to lead the life she wanted. Her reality was that she could never be fully independent.
Here is where my thoughts and final rating become conflicted. Although I did enjoy some parts of this story, the majority left me feeling quite uncomfortable. The reason for this is due to the tone it was narrated in and the way the subject manner was approached.
The narrator for this book is Christine Williams, who has a great voice for audio, but a style I wasn’t excepting going into this story. The way in which it was read gave off more of a contemporary romance type feel, rather than that of a historical fiction. This didn’t make the story sound very believable in my opinion. In fact it came across more much more sensual than I would have ever imagined a book about Helen Keller to be. I am not trying to stay that Helen Keller didn’t have a right to romance or seduction, but I wouldn’t think it would play out quite as it did, especially during that time period.
As for the love interest Peter Fagan, I did not like him one bit. He was portrayed at a very domineering man, a characteristic I found to be quite off putting in this scenario. Peter was constantly holding Helen’s arms over her head and pulling down her blouse in a way that came across as so inappropriate and uncomfortable.
|Hellen Keller, suffragist and political activist. Image from Biography.com|
Although this story was depicted in such an unexpected manner, there were a couple of qualities I found interesting. All things considered I would describe Rosie Sultan’s Helen in Love to have been quite an ambitious undertaking, which missed its mark.