Belle of the Back Streets by Glenda Young – A historical saga featuring impeccable research

Tragedy, grim events and so many challenges makes this a less than easy book, but it is immensely readable and difficult to put down when you have become involved with the characters. That is the strength of this saga which is set in a grim seaside colliery village at the end of the First World War; the characters and their dialogue fits extremely well with the setting and gives a super sense of the time and place. The research on the time, the work undertaken and even the habits of individuals and families in these circumstances is very impressive and contribute to a cohesive whole. This is a romantic and realistic saga which is very well written and is a very worthwhile read with living, breathing characters. I was pleased to receive a copy to read and review.

In the Summer of 1919 a strange man appears in a house. At least Tommy and Meg thinks so, and it is only when Sally is extracted from a local pub where she is working behind the bar that she confirms that it is indeed her husband, the children’s father, Ernie Sutcliffe, who has been away fighting in the War. Her feelings on seeing him are mixed as while she is grateful to see him home safely, Sally has had the bare minimum of contact in the form of postcards only once or twice a year. This is a different story from the romantic norm of moving correspondence with soldiers at the Front; in this novel the characters have different priorities from writing long letters. It seems that Ernie has not changed as he has a drink at every local pub, and quickly picks up his local contacts. Meg, the Belle of the title, is to learn the trade of rag and bone collection, with a horse drawn cart. The horse is an elderly one, called Stella, and a stray dog called Spot is added for company and protection as Meg learns where to collect old clothes, rags and even bones. The author shows how she has carefully researched the markets for such items, giving Meg more contact with other people in her community and further away. She meets Clarky, and despite it being obvious that nothing good can come of a relationship, she is smitten with her first love. When things get worse for the family, certain people rally around, including Adam. As Meg discovers that life can be difficult, the reader is carried along with the trials and tribulations of the community.

I found this an interesting and entertaining book well written and impeccably researched.  There are lots of small details which have the effect of drawing the reader in by grounding the story in reality. I enjoyed the characters who were well developed and changed in keeping with their circumstances. It is well written book of its type, and fans of historical female led fiction with an atmosphere of gritty realism will enjoy it. I found it a fascinating book with real insight, and look forward to future novels from this writer.


After the next couple of days I have a gap before more blog tour dates, so I will hope to get other reading done, including items from a small pile of books received from the British library. Watch this space for more reviews (of course!)