The Halfpenny Girls at Christmas by Maggie Mason
The three young women at the centre of this book have already been introduced in a previous novel, but such is the skill of the author in this case that it works as an excellent standalone read of friendship and loyalty. Alice, Edith and Marg have faced stiff challenges as they have grown up on a back street of Blackpool, but their strong friendship and loyalty have kept each young woman going throughout each trauma. Beginning in December 1938, this is a time of struggle for many families, as people have fought to come through a “Great War” and a depression which has made the lot of the poor even worse. Even though their friendship has always been strong despite their very real poverty in the past, this novel tells of trials that mean each of the three young women are torn by their own circumstances into new paths through life, especially as the shadow of a second war comes closer, and everyone knows that sacrifices will be needed. This is a skillfully written novel which certainly draws the reader in and maintains their interest throughout, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.
The three girls are together walking towards the prom in Blackpool in the cold winter weather. Alice, now married and pregnant with her first child, wears a warm coat, one of several she has to choose from in her secure home away from the street where the three young women grew up. Edith has had to move from her childhood home after a terrible incident which left her alone, but she is financially assisted by her caring fiance to help support her as she has moved into the house next to her friend Marg. Edith’s warm coat is in sharp contrast to the threadbare clothing worn by Marg, whose efforts to maintain her mother, grandmother and younger sister Jackie in their home have left her virtually penniless on this special outing. Happily Alice has more than enough money to pay for fish and chips for all three friends, and a warm drink has soon worked its magic as the girls enjoy themselves together in the community and place where they are so well known. Edith is also helping out at a sale which means that she and Alice can manage to arrange for Marg to buy warm coats for both herself and her sister Jackie from her tiny funds. Marg has continued to work part time in the local biscuit factory to pay a local woman to come in and care for her mother as a carer and help with Gran, who is losing her memories even of tragic losses. Her younger sister Jackie is a bright girl who is working with a local accountants’ firm in the office. There will be surprises for the family as Eric, who has played a part in their family for decades, is still around, and Clive, a wealthy young widower, is interested in the brave and responsible Marg. Edith has ambitions to achieve a career that will echo that of her beloved Philip’s, but feels that she must also meet the challenge of his family and a new way of speaking. Alice still has responsibilities for her brothers, and must draw on all her strength in the months to come.
This book is so eloquent in describing how the young women’s friendship continues and develops as they are joined by partners. The novel does feature Christmas celebrations that do not always go to plan, for better and worse, and it is a book of love, loyalty and much more as families draw together to face the future. I recommend it as an immersive read.