The Weight of Ink: a historical novelist’s treasure

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish
The Weight of Ink
by Rachel Kadish

Like a secret stash of undiscovered documents, The Weight of Ink is a historical novelist‘s treasure.

Set in London in both the 1660s and the early 2000s, The Weight of Ink is a double timeline historical novel. Its heroines are two intellectually gifted women whose talents are recognized by few.

Intellectually gifted heroines

The first, retirement-aged Helen Watt, a solitary, ailing historian, recovers a closetful of documents untouched for 350 years. After her university acquires them, Helen and graduate student, Aaron Levy, delve into their mysteries.

Thus, we discover Ester Velasquez, an extraordinary young 17th-century Jewish woman living in London. She scribing for the blind rabbi who rescued her and brought her from Amsterdam. The intertwined stories of the two solitary and brilliant main characters are suitably complex. Their fraught relationships as they carve their paths are intense experiences of love, conflict and philosophical questioning.  

Perennial themes

Rachel Kadish captures the challenges Helen and Aaron experience as they unpick the secrets from the faded, disintegrating documents whose authorship they seek. She depicts the rivalries with competing scholars who push Helen aside to advance from her find. I shiver from the authenticity of Kadish’s rendering of this serpent that eats at the heart of academe.

Meanwhile, in the second timeline, brilliant young Ester is filled with grief and bitterness resulting from the tragic events of her childhood. So, she wishes to pursue a life of philosophical study, a dream forbidden to Jewish women of her time. Using the blindness of the rabbi as a cover, she writes secretly to various scholars to debate dangerous ideas.

The Weight of Ink is Extraordinary

This novel probes beneath the surface of many lives. Its rendering of 17th-century life resonates. The pettiness of many academics in modern university circles rang many bells for me. Memorable characters struggling with loneliness in difficult circumstances questioning love, honesty, truth, God and belief. The meanings of our lives wrapped into a gripping plot and existential threats make The Weight of Ink an extraordinary read.

Historical novelists will find The Weight of Ink a treasure to add to their bookshelves. And its exceptional use of the double timeline technique is worth studying.

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