Thursday, July 24, 2014


Title: A Heart Deceived
Author: Michelle Griep
Publisher: David C Cook
Pages:  390

Reading A Heart Deceived by Michelle Griep, it is easy to get the impression that she was a contemporary of Charles Dickens. The author never falters when it comes to the fluency of the language of the time. It is this sureness of style that makes this romantic fiction, with a strong element of faith woven in, such an engaging read.

It is 1795 and 24-year-old Miri Brayden is beyond the age of marriage. She is also dependent on the goodwill of her brother, Pastor Roland, for her needs. She tries in vain to assert her independence between her brother’s bluster and the insipid alliance with Clive Witherskim, that he seeks to force upon her. 

Unfortunately, Miri dare not oppose Roland, a control freak and a bully, too strongly. His slowly weakening intellect and the increasing bouts of insanity visible in his actions are a secret that she tries hard to hide from the outside world. Any mention of it could lead to Roland finding himself in the lunatic asylum and force her to a life on the streets.

Meanwhile, Ethan Goodwin is a youth from London who has always lived by thieving, until now. Suddenly he finds himself unable to steal. He is drawn to the kindness of the Rev John Newton, and his claims of God’s mercy. But it is not so easy to give up a life of sin, opium addiction, thievery and other crimes. In an ill-fated moment, he is attacked by Nigel Thorne to whom he owes money. Thorne kills Ethan’s best friend, Will Brayden. Enraged, Ethan attacks Thorne and leaves him for dead.

Now on the run, Ethan rushes to Miri, hoping to make a fresh start. But Miri is desperately in need of a lifeline herself. The story of A Heart Deceived is the story of how these two young people, both hurting and miserable, find solace in each other and discover faith in God.

Griep’s research of the era is perfect to the last detail, beating time with the world as we know it from literature. A world in which diseases run rampant and life is forever at the mercy of the wealthy and the powerful.

Incidentally, the Rev John Newton in the book is based on the Anglican cleric, John Newton, who wrote the Christian hymn, Amazing Grace. The famous quote in which Newton spoke of being amazed by three things if he ever went to heaven has been incorporated into the novel.

The language is a delight, peppered with metaphors that force you to stop and read them again as you contemplate the blithe manner in which Griep has drawn parallels between seemingly unrelated objects. The many figures of speech, the similes and metaphors that are spread across the narrative (“as warm as a grandmother’s hug”) warm the heart too.

Griep is so successful at creating word pictures that one effortlessly begins to believe that one is present in a London of Dicken’s conjuring, one that is disease ravaged and throbbing with sin and wretchedness. In this near-parallel world, Ethan becomes the Oliver Twist who would like to leave his past behind and Thorne the Bill Sykes that won’t let him be.

The names, in the tradition of the time in which the book is set, serve to reveal the character of the person. For example, Goodwin, Witherskim, Thorne etc. Every character is well etched, making it easier for us to imagine ourselves in their shoes.

My only grouse is that in romanticising the story, Griep has forgotten the abject wretchedness suffered by opium addicts, particularly when they might seek to get over their addiction. Ethan may have strong will power, but what of the physical symptoms of attempting to go cold turkey? Griep spends so little time on describing his withdrawal symptoms that one thinks of him as a thief, yes, but forgets about his addiction.

The title of the book seems entirely irrelevant. Whose heart was deceived, I couldn’t really tell. Was it Ethan or Miri? Particularly since the deception is not really deceitful and does not last long.

Also, we are never told the details of why Will and Ethan were driven to a life on the streets. The scanty information provided on the subject makes their leaving home seem unconvincing. That they don’t have their father’s love seems insufficient cause for such rebellion and the willing exchange of a comfortable life for a wretched existence on the streets.

In spite of these issues, I loved A Heart Deceived, and was sorry to see it coming to an end. I particularly commend Griep for making a frightening bygone era seem like a living nightmare. So powerful is the writing that one can well imagine a world in which women have no rights at all. A world in which honest people may rot in jail, hang on the gallows or be pronounced insane, despite lack of evidence.

(I got a copy of this book through Netgalley. I read it on Kindle.)

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