In Angel and Apostle we find two things: first, the story of The Scarlet Letter from a different point of view, that of Pearl, the fruit of Scarlet’s “sin.” Second, Deborah Noyes takes the story further, fleshing out the sketched end of the book and introducing us to Pearl’s life as an adult.
Pearl is reckless. She is stubborn and impish and not quite of this world. Seeing the story of The Scarlet Letter through her eyes is a strange thing; she seems less purposefully naughty in this tale than in the original — her eyes are for her beloved blind friend and the trees, the mosses and animals. She is, somewhat understandably, a bit of an unloved wanderer — she craves attention but doesn’t always like it when she gets it. Her journey from the New World to the Old doesn’t solve all of her and her mother’s problems, but the dichotomy of the two places is always there in Pearl’s heart as she grows up and tries to sort through her heart and make a place for herself.
Having recently read The Scarlet Letter, I feel qualified to say that this prose is about as close to Hawthorne’s as it’s possible to get — descriptive and eloquent — and Noyes captures the period just right. The people, their decisions and fears flow true to The Scarlet Letter. And, for better or for worse, I felt that same strange sensation sometimes as if I were watching the story through frosted glass — as if I weren’t quite getting all that seemed to be taking place because of nuances of language.
Truthfully, while the second half kept me engaged and I was eager to read it, I didn’t love it. Maybe it’s the writing style, but I never felt close to Pearl; I always felt as if she were holding me, and herself, at arm’s length, and I had a hard time understanding the choices she made. While the later plot in the book mirrors Hawthorne’s nicely, it also felt a bit obvious, although an interesting twist from what we assume from The Scarlet Letter. Maybe I wanted more for Pearl; maybe the theme of adultery is just not something I love to read about; maybe she just landed in the Old World at the wrong time; maybe she was just born under a cruel star; I don’t know — but I did appreciate that in the end, she took charge of herself and her decisions, acknowledging that knowing the truth is one of the most important things.
Rated: Moderate, for two uses of strong language. The book has some sexual scenes, one of which is pretty descriptive.