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Book Review: Miss Bo Lyell’s Rambles In The New World by M. K. SINGLETON

This is a fictional story of two ladies, Boadeccia (Bo) from Warwickshire and Danica from Leicestershire, young cousins from the old, influential and rich Lyell family. In 1869, they sailed to America to start a new life.

This is a fictional story of two ladies, Boadeccia (Bo) from Warwickshire and Danica from Leicestershire, young cousins from the old, influential and rich Lyell family. In 1869, they sailed to America to start a new life.

Miss Bo Lyell’s Rambles In The New World
(by M. K. Singleton)
2019, Picara Press

This is a fictional story of two ladies, Boadeccia (Bo) from Warwickshire and Danica from Leicestershire, young cousins from the old, influential and rich Lyell family. In 1869, they sailed to America to start a new life. By the mid-1880s, Bo, outraged at the injustices inflicted on the indigenous people, moves to BC only to find out that the Canadian aboriginals as well are being badly mistreated – and intentionally so, she believes – and deprived of arable lands. The loss of migratory bison, staple food of the indigenous, due to white people’s activity, had made the natives’ lives unsustainable. Some 15 years later, Bo, disillusioned and distraught, leaves everything behind and boards a ship to sail back to England.

Conceptually and stylistically, this novel is a combination of an American Western infused with the ideas of humanism and social progress. The Western is one of the oldest, most enduring, and most characteristically American genres, with the sometimes roguish but appealing characters typically manifesting a pervasive all-conquering vitality of spirit and of action – just as Bo and Danica do. But the attention and focus given to such topics as the unjust treatment of aboriginals, or the stereotyping of women and mental illness should justify calling it a humanist novel.

Both heroines strive to personally contribute to social progress, but in different ways according to their very different personalities. In a sense, Bo is counter-positioned to Danica. A well-educated (for the times) accomplished nurse, Danica, who is also a devoted wife and mother of two, works hard within and beyond her duties, not only treating patients as a nurse in Edmonton, Alberta, where she established a home for her family, but also successfully attempting to bring medical care to northern Canadian areas, to the Inuit, who had had none at the time.Bo is extraordinarily intelligent (she once asked her father whether her parents thought of her as a genius or an intellectual ‘monster’), erudite, eloquent, and self-confident. She is a born fighter against injustice.

In her knowledge of armaments and guns, she was proclaimed uniquely superior and compared with Napoleon. Her father calls her “my warrior-child.”

But all she had ever aspired for in America was to become a farmer. Somehow, she is not attracted to any intellectual endeavors, writing or research, to science, art, or performance, nor in the least to family life.

In America and later in Canada, she courageously and successfully fights different forms of discrimination against the indigenous people at the local level for some 15 years. Her perpetual battles many times take the form of being physically attacked by armed villains with mutual shooting (the skill that Bo is unrivalled in), stabbing, mutilation of enemies and the burning of their homes. Bo is always ready to ‘call fire on herself’ –  to endanger herself to protect innocent women and children under attack by villains.

Bo is almost miraculously victorious, a heroine, in all her battles, mostly due to her wit and will to win, but sometimes at a cost. On infrequent occasions this shining image seems overdone: a villain catches and rapes her and in further punishment cuts off her nose. I, a reader, am gasping in horror. Bo’s immediate reaction: ‘there won’t be much bleeding, it’s only cartilage…’ Believable?

On approaching 40, Bo seems to experience some sort of a crisis of confidence and turns her back on America, abandoning all her agricultural endeavors and leaving everything behind. Upon her arrival in London, another villain, a former US Cavalry officer, attacks and kills her, in revenge for Bo’s having got Seton court-martialled back in America.

Bo’s father and particularly her beloved older brother, Walter, have been given lesser roles and less limelight in the narrative, just like the indigenous people in Bo’s life. The negative characters are duly negative and sometimes  two-dimensional.

The plot is sensible and convincing, well-developed, fast-moving, and adventurous; there are no loose ends and no logical omissions.The author writes well. This is a book worth reading, particularly for those interested in history of the American Frontier and British interactions with its Canadian colony.