It was with some trepidation that I started to read her second book, The Promise. I wondered how she was going to write something as evocative as her first novel. I started reading The Promise on the train down to London yesterday and I finished it during my return journey. I hardly raised my head once as I was sucked into this intensely moving, sometimes very challenging, but wonderfully easy to read story. I felt as though I had been whisked off to Texas in the early 1900s and once, when I glanced out of the train window, I was actually shocked to see the fields covered in snow - this story really does suck the reader in, and very quickly.
Once again Ann Weisgarber has created a story that centres around extremely strong female characters. Catherine Wainwright, who has fled her home-town in the wake of scandal and Nan Ogden; a down-to-earth, honest farm girl who lives on the outskirts of Galveston. When Catherine realises that she can no longer hold her head up in her home town, she orchestrates a marriage proposal from Oscar Williams. Oscar moved out to Galveston to become a dairy farmer and has recently been widowed and left with a four-year-old son Andre, to care for. Nan Ogden promised Oscar's wife that she would care for Andre. Nan and Catherine are as different as chalk and cheese, yet underneath they are both very strong women, and both struggle against the rules of society.
Life in Galveston is hard for Catherine, the town-folk have never met anyone like her. She bewitches the men and the women suspect her. Nan struggles with her feelings for Oscar, her loyalties to his first wife and her feelings that no one will ever love her. They struggle on together, and it is only when a terrible storm hits the small town that they are tested to their limits.
The characters in The Promise are developed so well, they grow with the story - their flaws and their failings are not glossed over, these are real people, drawn beautifully. The sense of place is what stands out the most for me - the heat, the smells, the sights and the sounds of this bleak and desolate part of Texas. The description of the terror and havoc that the storm brings is vivid.
Galveston really did suffer terribly during the storm of 1900, this is an event that I had no knowledge of and have discovered that although this is a fictional story, some of the people and the places really did exist. This storm was far worse than Hurricane Katrina and ripped the heart out of this small community, killing in the region of 6000 people.
I enjoyed every single page of The Promise, I liked it even more than Rachel Dupree. Ann Weisgarber has proved to me that she is an incredibly talented author whose stories are going from strength to strength.
The Promise will be published by Pan Macmillan on 14 March 2013.