Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper
|Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper|
|Reviewer: Linda Lawlor|
|Summary: A vivid and thrilling Victorian tale of villains, deadly peril and a courageous heroine.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: June 2010|
|Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC|
Grace Parkes is not yet sixteen when she loses her baby. Worse still, it is 1861, and Grace is unmarried. To have a baby out of wedlock is a shameful thing for a girl in Victorian times, even if it is not by her own choice, and Grace has to cope all alone with the shame of her condition and the loss of her child, not to mention a sister who needs constant care and their increasing poverty. But Fallen Grace is not some nineteenth century version of the misery memoir: Grace has resourcefulness and determination as well as beauty, and her story moves at a gripping pace.
While she is burying her baby, Grace is offered a job as a mute, whose task at funerals would be to stand, still and silent as a statue, to represent grief for the dearly departed. Victorian society was obsessed with death, and with its rituals, conventions and etiquette: it spawned a whole industry from undertakers to the manufacturers of mourning clothing. At first Grace refuses but when she and her sister lose their home and their work as watercress sellers, she has no choice. She works fourteen hours a day, six days a week, for food and lodging and a mere shilling a week, and her sister moves to another household to be a kitchen skivvy. It is not long, however, before Grace's life is in danger once more.
Half-way through the book Grace meets Charles Dickens, and it is safe to say he would have delighted in the Gothic complexities of this book. All the traditional elements are there: a young woman in mortal danger, a wicked villain who will stop at nothing to swindle her out of her fortune, a long-lost father and a gallant suitor who sees the purity and worth of the heroine despite the barriers of class and money.
Grace and Lily are well-born, but after the death of their mother they swiftly find themselves, through no fault of their own, on a downward spiral into utter destitution. Mary Hooper does not shrink from depicting the misery and squalor endured by the poor in Victorian times, and the injustices of a system which forces them to be helpless victims. Grace accepts her fate as a fallen woman, because it is what society has taught her: nonetheless she struggles to the best of her ability to survive, and to protect her sister Lily. It is clear a great deal of research went into the preparation for this book, but it does not weigh heavily on the reader, and always remains in the background. At the beginning of the book, for example, the vast chasm between rich and poor is shown by the descriptions of the first, second and third class carriages on the Necropolis Railway (a real railway service, which dealt with the over-crowding in London churchyards by ferrying coffins and mourners to an immense cemetery outside the capital). Information about bracelets and embroidery made from human hair, quotations from Dickens and adverts from newspapers at the top of every chapter, a vignette about the despair of an elderly couple who will be separated forever when they are sent to the workhouse, all add to the authentic feel of this book.
Fallen Grace is a highly satisfactory story, with a dramatic plot and a fascinating insight into the world many modern-day readers would have experienced if they had been alive 150 years ago. A main strand of the plot is based on rape, but it is delicately and discreetly mentioned, so readers at the younger end of the age range will have no trouble coping with it. It cannot be recommended highly enough.
Many thanks to Bloomsbury for sending us this excellent book.
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