The Weight of Ink – terrific writing, a well-designed story, good character development, lots of history, a search for the meaning of life. So much to like about this one!
The Weight of Ink presents stories from two very different time periods that become intricately woven together. In 17th century London, Ester scribes for a blind rabbi who took her in when she was orphaned. This was very unusual and somewhat scandalous, for women of this time typically didn’t receive an education, nor did they scribe for rabbis. This work turns out to be a lifeline for Ester, who has a curious mind that’s hungry for answers to some very complex theological and philosophical questions.
Approximately 350 years later, aging Jewish history professor Helen receives a phone call that leads to the discovery of a lifetime – a stash of documents written by Ester, found during the renovation of a 17th century manor. Helen enlists the help of postgraduate student Aaron, a cocky American (of course!) whose thesis work is floundering. The two get along like oil and water, but at least share a fascination and reverence for the work of studying and interpreting Ester’s papers.
The novel switches back and forth between time periods. Really, Ester’s story could have been a novel in itself. There was a lot going on at the time – the end of Cromwell’s puritan rule, the reestablishment of a Jewish community in London, the plague, and a devastating fire in London. Add to that Ester’s personal story – a woman doing a “man’s job,” finding and losing love, relentlessly seeking truth, and surviving the plague – and you have a fulfilling novel.
Helen and Aaron’s stories, however, were not standalone – they revolved around Ester. As they unravel the mystery of Ester and her papers, they do a lot of soul searching. This includes regrets about past relationships, questioning their priorities, analyzing who they have become and not liking the results, and vowing to be better people. Working on Ester’s papers was literally life altering for Helen and Aaron, and the reader sees both characters progress as the story moves forward.
Ester is very introspective, as well. In fact, the philosophical direction she was trying to develop seemed to revolve around explaining and justifying who she was (not very compassionate, pretty rude, a stern soul), and she landed on a version of humanism. It made me wonder if other philosophers took this ego-centric approach to explaining the world. If there’s one flaw in the book, it’s that Ester overthought everything, to the point of tedium. That, plus the book’s long length (592 pages), made a few sections drag. It probably could have benefited from more aggressive editing.
But, overall, I loved The Weight of Ink and highly recommend it. Such great writing and storytelling!
Have you read The Weight of Ink? Please share your thoughts.