After the success of our first Book Group we decided to continue our gatherings with 2 new books up for discussion. On the fiction side we chose to read The Painter’s Apprentice, the follow-up book from the lovely Charlotte Betts who won the RNA Joan Hessayon award for her debut novel, The Apothecary’s Daughter last year. Charlotte’s wonderful use of language in The Painter’s Apprentice brought colours, tastes and the world of the everyday person to life.
For our non-fiction book we picked Painkiller Addict, a brutally truthful and often harrowing account of how highflyer Cathryn Kemp found herself addicted to prescription drugs, 100 times more addictive than heroin. Painkiller Addict was an eye-opener for all of us and uncovers the stark reality of how easy and how destructive it can be to become addicted to drugs that we are prescribed by our GPs to help with pain and illness.
The Painter’s Apprentice
1688. Beth Ambrose has led a sheltered life within the walls of Merryfields, her family home on the outskirts of London; a place where her parents provide a sanctuary for melancholic souls. A passionate and gifted artist, Beth shares a close bond with Johannes the painter, a troubled resident at Merryfields, who nurtures her talents and takes her on as his apprentice.
But as political tensions begin to rise in the capital, Noah Leyton arrives at their door in the middle of the night with a proposition that turns Beth’s world upside down. Meanwhile, Merryfields becomes refuge to a mysterious new guest, whose connections provide an opportunity for Beth to fulfil her artistic ambitions. But she soon realises it comes at a price.
As the Glorious Revolution begins to throw the whole country into turmoil, can Beth find the courage to follow her heart and defend all she holds dear? And change the course of history for good . . .
What the Group Thought:
We all loved how The Painter’s Apprentice touches on an area of history that is so rarely used by romance writers. Set 20 years after The Apothecary’s Daughter (which depicted the plague and the Great Fire of London), The Painter’s Apprentice follows the life of Susannah’s (protagonist in debut) daughter Beth as she copes with the changes that The Glorious Revolution has brought to London and in particular, Beth’s life. Throughout the novel Charlotte magically weaves together political details, the life of Christopher Wren, and the movement of the English to the plantations of Virginia with a ‘lushness’ of detail provided by her narrative style.
For those who had read The Apothecary’s Daughter it was great to see Arabella back on the scene in her usual fiery way. Although The Painter’s Apprentice is a sequel to The Apothecary’s Daughter it works extremely well as a stand-alone. Charlotte’s narrative style is escapist, readable and brings the visual imagery to life extremely adeptly.
Painkiller Addict: From Wreckage to Redemption
One of the biggest medical scandals of our time is the over-prescription of strong pain relief. This heart-rending memoir lifts the lid on the issue, showing the price one woman paid and her fight to recover.
Cathryn Kemp was a successful travel journalist who was struck down by a life-threatening illness. After four years of operations and misdiagnoses she left hospital with a repeat prescription for fentanyl, a painkiller 100 times stronger than heroin. Within two years she was taking more than ten times the NHS maximum, all on prescription. Her family struggled to understand; her boyfriend left her, she hit rock bottom. Discovering she had only six months to live if she didn’t give up the drugs she sold everything she owned and checked into rehab. In the treatment centre she was told that she was unlikely to recover from ‘the highest level of opiate-abuse in the clinic’s history’. To everyone’s amazement, she proved them wrong.
This is an extraordinarily poignant, vivid and honest memoir. Based on the twenty-four diaries that the author kept during this period, we travel with Cathryn through her hospital agony, descend with her into the hell of addiction and cheer her as she pulls herself out and upwards. It is a love story, a horror story, a survival story, and one that shows only too clearly the very real dangers of the over-prescription of painkillers and tranquillisers.
There will also be a resource section for sufferers and their loved ones.
What the Group Thought:
Senior Commissioning Editor, Anne Lawrance first came across Painkiller Addict at the London Book Fair last year and was instantly grabbed by this unique description of such a topical subject and prevalent issue of painkiller addiction.
Cathryn’s coherent and detailed writing style brings to life every raw moment of anguish that she felt through her illness and her addiction. Having such an articulate and relatable author shocked many of us and the general feeling was just how lucky and grateful we are for our good health.
Up until now addiction has been a relatively anonymous subject. Cathryn breaks away from these boundaries to give an intense insight into how lonely and terrifying it can be to suddenly be taken seriously ill and go from being an independent career-minded person to someone who is at the mercy of everyone.
We all felt that although it is a harrowing read Painkiller Addict is also incredibly inspiring and the insights into addiction that Cathryn provides would help parents, friends and relatives of those who are suffering with addiction to prescription drugs. The pressure on Cathryn’s parents quickly remind you of how many people can be affected by addiction and just how blurred the boundaries of ‘carers’ can be.
Charlotte Bett's The Painter's Apprentice is being published by Piatkus in August 2012.
Cathryn Kemp's Painkiller Addict is being published by Piatkus in September 2012.
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