This is the story of Tilly, a total transformation in her fortunes, and of those closest to her. Beginning in Blackpool in 1893, she lives in a small home with her beloved husband Arthur and her small twin girls, Babs and Beth. Arthur is working on the iconic Tower, and all seems to be well until a tragic accident robs Tilly of all support, financial and emotional. Her efforts to use her undoubted skill in basket weaving are met with all sorts of disappointments, and it seems that her best efforts to support herself and her daughters are doomed to failure. Worst still, within a short time her reputation is lost, and both old and new friends turn their backs on her.
This is the story of a young woman in a close community whose physical attractions are her undoing for most of the novel, as people, especially men, are quick to jump to conclusions about what she truly wants. She is intelligent, loyal and loving, but her innocence and trusting nature can let her down. Later there are other traits which damage her, but this is a book of female strength and the loyalty of female friends. It has much to say on attitudes to both individuals and groups of people, and how wrong assumptions can damage and destroy. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book that I actually read it in one quite long sitting.
The dialogue in this novel from the beginning reflects a very distinctive accent and voice. It is the voice of Blackpool, as this is very much a book with a sense of place, not just in the character’s determination to stay in the north east, but in the whole picture of life outside London. It shows the strong voice of women in ordering their lives and that of their children, while also depicts their vulnerability especially when their reputation is in question.
There are moments of real beauty here, as the author describes the traditional practices of gypsies and their celebrations, clan structures, and ways of earning a living when public opinion is against them. It shows the way that life in domestic service, though usually for the long term, can be precarious and have a devastating effect when lost. This is a book which talks about the small things of daily life at the very end of the nineteenth century in provincial Britain, such as what a family in reduced circumstances would eat, and how sanitary arrangements actually worked. This insight is either the result of good research, or simply excellent background knowledge, and gives this book a sound basis.
This book is actually the first of the Sandgronians Trilogy which will be largely set in Blackpool, which is a favourite location for this author. According to the author in her letter, other volumes will spread the focus to France and elsewhere in Britain, but still find its way back to Blackpool. This book would probably be best defined as a saga, and it is a fine example of a historical and fictional account of a significant portion of a woman’s life. It is a book which succeeds in bringing to life the story of a vulnerable, attractive and determined woman, who is forced by circumstances to reassess her priorities and how best to survive. It is a memorable and immensely readable book, which immerses the reader in a world different from the present day, but still containing elements familiar to women today.