Belle by Lesley Pearse

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Belle by Lesley Pearse

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Katie Pullen
Reviewed by Katie Pullen
Summary: A colourful, dramatic and fast paced story of Belle Cooper, a young woman forced into prostitution after being kidnapped from the streets of London in 1910. An enjoyable and entertaining read, let down a little by Pearse's eagerness to drive the story onwards just a bit too quickly at times.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 624 Date: February 2011
Publisher: Michael Joseph Ltd
ISBN: 978-0718157029

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Belle's story begins in London in 1910. She is fifteen years old and lives an innocent life in her mother's brothel, with no understanding of what really takes place there. Her mother has encouraged her to read and write, wanting her kept away from the harsh realities of the brothel and the rough streets of London that surround her. But Belle's innocence is shattered when she witnesses the murder of one of the brothel's most popular girls, and is subsequently grabbed from the street and trafficked to Paris as a prostitute.

Belle learns all too quickly exactly what the girls in her mother's brothel did for a living when she is forced into prostitution by her captors in Paris, before being shipped overseas to New Orleans where prostitution is legal. Although frightened, lonely and homesick, Belle decides to accept her fate and embraces her new life as a prostitute, even finding she quite likes it. But with few friends, and surrounded by dangerous and desperate men, can Belle ever find her way back home and her innocent dream of running a hat shop?

For some unknown reason Lesley Pearse has passed me by as a novelist, so I was interested to read her latest release Belle, after reading so many favourable reviews of her other books. To begin with I was not disappointed. Pearse dives straight into Belle's story and I was soon captivated by Belle and her life in London living below stairs in a brothel. The streets of Seven Dials in London are full of the sights, sounds and smells of the period and all is described with a richness and vibrancy which really takes you there as you follow Belle exploring the streets, completely innocent of the thieves, muggers and n'er do wells at every turn.

As Belle's story moves from London, Paris, New Orleans and back again, Pearse maintains her eloquent descriptions of the people and places Belle comes across. I particularly enjoyed Belle's time in New Orleans which is portrayed with immense vividness and clearly demonstrates Pearse's in-depth research of the city at the time. It is all an impressive backdrop for Belle's story.

Belle herself is a fine heroine who, although extremely young, has a good head on her shoulders and battles against her fate with admirable determination. Although Belle suffers a horrifying ordeal at the hands of her captors, once she reaches New Orleans she is somehow able to decide to turn her fate to her own advantage, discovering sides of her personality she never knew existed and becomes adept at understanding what men want in the bedroom. She is plucky and accepting of her abilities as a woman, but this unfortunately does not stop her from lurching from one dangerous situation to another as she tries to find the right path for herself.

Belle doesn't stay in one place for very long throughout the novel and this is where I started to feel disappointed. She moves all too quickly from one place and set of people to the next, (sometimes not through choice I should say) and this for me meant there was never enough time to just completely take it all in. There's a clear sense of the story being moved constantly onwards, almost as if Pearse is afraid her readers will become bored, or that they will find Belle's story a bit shallow in places. Unfortunately this did not sit well with me and at times I felt completely deprived of being able to fully digest all the wonderful sights, sounds and colourful characters Pearse portrays. I would also have liked Belle to achieve something more of herself on her travels than she does, but maybe I was expecting too much from such a novel.

I'm glad I've finally read a Lesley Pearse book as Belle is an enjoyable read, being both well-written and meticulously researched. However, I would only recommend it if you are already a fan of Pearse's or find the lure of the period, setting and themes of the book hard to resist.

I'd like to thank the publisher for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further Reading Suggestion: If you like the sound of this book you may also enjoy Lesley Pearse's Gypsy or Stolen, or for something completely different but with the theme of prostitution try The Blue Notebook by James A Levine.

Lesley Pearse's Novels in Chronological Order

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Betty Thompson said:

I agree with the review . I would also like to add that at times I felt that the story was spoilt by the author’s transparency in plotting, I knew that things were going to go wrong. A dash of suspense would have added a bit of extra flavour to this delicious story. 9.999 out of 10.