Devotion (Hannah Kent, Picador)
When Hanne meets Thea, her life suddenly makes sense. They live in Kay, a tight-knit community of devout Lutherans who have been shunned for their beliefs. Both girls, on the cusp of adulthood, are outsiders. Hanne prefers the wild beauty of nature to the stifling and conservative future laid out in front of her. Thea’s family is new to the village, and her mother in particular is viewed with suspicion; some of the women think she is a hexe—a witch. Hannah Kent’s third novel, Devotion, tells the bittersweet and tender story of Hanne and Thea’s blossoming relationship, set against their community’s migration from Prussia to the hills of South Australia. Like her previous two novels, Devotion is set in the 1800s, and Kent’s dedication to research and keen eye for historical detail mean the reader is immersed in a rich, vibrant and fully realised world. The book’s structure is masterfully used to play into reader expectations before subverting them. Kent conjures up images and emotions vividly, but there isn’t a single sentence that could be easily cut. She gently explores themes of love, duty, jealousy, colonisation, and the push and pull between humans and the natural world. Devotion is tinged with the supernatural and takes unexpected turns, pushing against genre conventions while laying out a sweet, tragic but also surprisingly joyous tale.
Elizabeth Flux is a freelance writer and editor.