Netherwood by Jane Sanderson

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Netherwood by Jane Sanderson

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Susmita Chatto
Reviewed by Susmita Chatto
Summary: Eve is married to a miner and familiar with all the entrenched habits and beliefs of her local community. When her circumstances change and she begins to earn money through her cooking skills, she finds herself with a unique window into the workings of the upper class.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 464 Date: September 2011
Publisher: Sphere
ISBN: 978-0751547634

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The cover of Netherwood features a bold promise - Perfect for fans of Downton Abbey. The basic features of a reliable upstairs/downstairs saga are all present; the landed gentry enjoying their estate, the staff servicing it and the locals, all relying on the fortunate family for their own income.

Sanderson sets out her stall with extensive description in the early parts of the novel. The lush landscape of Netherwood, Fulton House and Eve's cooking are all brought to life by Sanderson's words. However, the early descriptions of characters take a little time to feel real, especially for the upper class characters, who only really come to life later, in the London-based part of the novel.

The juxtaposition of the luxury life of the upper class family, with those of the miners employed in the local colliery, works well. The helplessness felt by the lower orders and the daily dangers of life as a miner, accepted so casually even today, are portrayed alongside the battle for employment rights, women's voting rights and freedom of choice and movement overall.

The restrictions that are created through social conventions rather than laws or condition of employment are also examined; the mindset of those brave enough to make a change seen contrasted with those who believe their lot in life is inevitable and should not be questioned. The resulting conflicts within the classes are as carefully examined as the divide between the upper and lower orders and this leads to character conflict as people who are close to each other find their relationships under threat due to their moral stance on many kinds of problems.

The Russian immigrant Anna, initially housed by Eve purely for the rent she brings with her, proves to be one of the most likeable of quite a large cast. Eve's other friends are less attractive; although Amos is admirable in many ways, his plodding characteristics are a little too ordinary for him to be a person that leaps off the page. Eve herself seems quite ordinary at the start, but her spirit and entrepreneurial streak make her easy to warm to and respect as the story picks up.

Overall, the novel carries a theme of dignity in work which of course means that the upper class characters are bound to fall short a little in terms of gaining the respect of the reader. Although Henrietta is slightly reminiscent of Downton Abbey's Sybil, she is not as likeable - but certain wins points in that she cares about people, not just the right people. Her brother Tobias simply seems frivolous and pointless and although this provides ample opportunity for comedy, it can be difficult to care what happens to a charcter for whom you have little regard.

Assembling a cast as large as the one boasted by Netherwood is a major challenge. There are a number of issues introduced towards the end of the book and left open; although I was unaware whilst reading that a sequel would be available, I did guess at this as the groundwork seemed to be pointing in this direction. However, the journeys undertaken by Eve, Anna and Amos are complete and there are no loose ends left untied in a way that might irritate the reader.

Overall, this an enjoyable read with serious storylines to back up the fun and I am looking forward to the sequel.

FURTHER READING SUGGESTION:

Westwood by Stella Gibbons

Buy Netherwood by Jane Sanderson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Netherwood by Jane Sanderson at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Netherwood by Jane Sanderson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Netherwood by Jane Sanderson at Amazon.com.


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