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It's always recommended that novels open with a crisis, and 'Tilly True' does that to perfection. The opening sentence introduces the heroine falling on the floor with a sickening thud after being beaten by her employer, who accuses her of stealing a brooch.

Tilly True by Dilly Court

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Fairhead
Reviewed by Sue Fairhead
Summary: Young Tilly, unfairly dismissed from her job as a housemaid, determines to make something of her life and to rise out of the poverty trap. Set around the turn of the 20th century.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 528 Date: October 2006
Publisher: Arrow
ISBN: 978-0099499633

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Tilly - who works as a housemaid - swears her innocence, but nobody believes her so she walks out. Set at the turn of the 20th century, there are no unions or employer tribunals, nor any protection for working class women, so this is a brave move.

The action continues as Tilly makes her way to her family home. She stops a donkey being beaten, and is rescued by a clergyman before finally returning to her family. But although she knows they love her and will believe her innocence, her parents and siblings are very poor, and often hungry. Tilly knows she can't stay with them for long and must find some other job. When she learns that they are struggling even more than before, she cannot admit what has happened, and instead makes up a story about going to work for the clergyman.

By the end of the first - and rather exhausting - chapter, Tilly is clearly established as a fiery, determined and impetuous girl who has great strength of feeling. Her main fault seems to be her imagination, which runs wild at times. She invents stories whenever it suits her, and frequently gets caught up in a tangle of lies.

The book continues to be fast-paced, making quite compelling reading. Tilly has some very unpleasant experiences, but stays strong throughout most of them, continually determined to raise herself and her family out of the poverty to which they were born.

It's what I think of as the 'Catherine Cookson' genre of historical novel - firmly set in the working classes, with the upper-middle-class clergyman and his family being portrayed fairly negatively. The problems besetting the working classes are also clearly shown - not just poverty, but the dangers of gang violence, the appalling standards of hygiene in some of the food markets, and the general difficult plight of women.

Although I sympathised with Tilly, and thought the book well-written, there was rather too much action for my personal tastes, and too little characterisation. Other than Tilly, all the other characters were rather shadowy. They were different enough to be memorable, and played their parts well, but I didn't feel I got to know any of them.

Anyone who likes this style of novel would probably enjoy this as a light read. The unpleasantness isn't given too much gory detail, and the overall theme of the book is fairly uplifting. The hardback version has over 500 pages, but the text is large and the margins wide, and I easily finished it in three evenings. The paperback edition is published in January 2007.

Thanks to the publishers for sending this book.

If this is the type of book that you enjoy then you also like Little Girl Lost by Katie Flynn or Maggie Craig's The River Flows On.

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Buy Tilly True by Dilly Court at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Tilly True by Dilly Court at


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Magda said:

I can't believe it's Dilly writing about Tilly!

Even nowadays there isn't much protection for domestic servants and similar, especially if employed in 'grey' or 'black' economy.