This beautiful but claustrophobic room is reminiscent of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. These are Frannie Langton’s thoughts upon arriving at her mistress’s house in London. She has just been removed from ‘Paradise’ —a place that was anything but: a plantation where the owner, Mr. Langton, experiments on slaves. Frannie is one of his experiments, a young black girl brought up on books so he could examine who she would become.
Novels are Frannie’s sustenance. Like any child reading books, she feels as though she is escaping into those stories, but she soon learns there is no escaping the stories she reads. Punished for appearing idle, Mr. Langton forces her to eat the pages of her favourite book, Candide, and slowly its words become part of her. Throughout the whole novel, books are described as food: ‘pages as white as apples,’ ‘one book… cleaner than fresh-baked bread’, ‘a novel… like a long, warm drink’ but as Frannie’s mistress remarks: ‘women cannot survive on novels alone.’
Author Sara Collins uses books as markers throughout The Confessions of Frannie Langton to great effect. When talking about the books she loves, Frannie says ‘holding one [is] like holding all the things that could happen in the world but just [haven’t] happened yet.’ This is a wink to the reader, for all the books Collins mentions are clues as to what is about to happen next. Frannie’s favourite novel, Candide, is an attack on optimism and shares similarities with her own life. When Frannie discovers another copy of this book in London, she sews pages of it into her skirts and uses it to weaponise herself. Upon leaving Paradise, she tells her mistress she has just read Paradise Lost. Next, her mistress —embarking on a love affair with Frannie— reads Mathilde aloud. This is Mary Shelley’s autobiographical novel written in the second person, about a character who confesses her sins before she dies. Frannie says that she does not like it at all, and it’s no wonder: it’s too close to the book she is about to write herself.