The Tenth Gift
by Jane Johnson
Two worlds intertwine across time and space when Julia Lovat receives The Needle-Woman’s Glorie from her lover Michael, moments before he breaks up with her. Broken-hearted, Julia immerses herself in the book, and discovers that it contains the secret diary of Catherine Ann Tregenna, a young Cornish girl kidnapped by pirates and auctioned as a slave in Morocco. Julia becomes obsessed with Catherine’s story, eventually following her to Morocco so she can better understand the girl in the book. She finds herself falling for her Moroccan guide, but then Michael appears in her life once more. Why has he followed her to Morocco?
The narrative switches between Catherine and Julia, each woman fulfilling a common trope of chick lit. Catherine is the feisty, spirited woman fighting against the oppression of the past. Julia is the clingy, desperate modern woman seeking love in all the wrong places. It’s kinda lame, really. The characters are quite flat and two-dimensional; the pirate captain who kidnaps Catherine is an especially laughable caricature.
Throughout the story I had a strong feeling of ‘been there, done that’ and this emotion was actually well-captured in the opening line of The Tenth Gift: “There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they have never happened before.”
I have read this story before in other books. In fact, there was one book I read several years ago that was constantly brought to mind. I have been trying to remember more details of that book, like the title, all afternoon with no luck. It was not a good book. This story from my past was the very first “bodice-ripper” romance novel I ever read in which an Algerian warlord kidnapped a feisty Englishwoman and in the hot, dry desert she learns the heat of passion. The warlord turns out to be half-English, son of a nobleman, and she must choose between the exotic Bedouin life or the world she’s left behind in England. Also, I think at one point she kills a tiger. I don’t know. I’m not saying that novel, whatever it was, was any more original than The Tenth Gift. It was the sort of book that has Fabio on the cover, so it was not great literature. It certainly wasn’t better written – Johnson does have a very lyrical style that flows very naturally. But at least the passion in that book felt authentic, and while reading I learned about twenty euphemisms for male genitalia.
From The Tenth Gift I walk away with nothing.