About the Book
Edith, an elderly widow with a large house in an Islington garden square, needs a carer. Lauren, a nail technician born in the East End, needs somewhere to live. A rent-free room in lieu of pay seems the obvious solution, even though the pair have nothing in common. Or do they?
Why is Lauren so fascinated by Edith’s childhood in colonial Kenya? Is Paul, the handsome lodger in the basement, the honest broker he appears? And how does Charity, a Kenyan girl brutally tortured during the Mau Mau rebellion, fit into the equation?
Format: Paperback (304 pages) Publisher: Lightning Books
Publication date: 26 April 2021 Genre: Contemporary Fiction
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Lauren and Edith are two women who could not be more different in age or background. Edith, now an elderly widow and increasingly frail, grew up in Kenya and married a British soldier. Lauren is a young Londoner with an ambition to qualify as a beauty technician and open her own nail salon. In the meantime, she’s supplementing her income by taking on the role of live-in housekeeper and companion to Edith. However, as hinted at early in the book, there is a connection between them but one of which Edith is unaware.
Although rather set in her ways and a stickler for doing things correctly, Edith demonstrates a trusting and generous attitude towards others. For example, her first impression of Lauren is that she has ‘a delightful smile, open and spontaneous’. However, there are mysteries about Edith’s past including the reason for her estrangement from her daughter, Joanna, or why her sleep is frequently disturbed by nightmares involving a girl called Mary. On the other hand, Lauren’s behaviour towards her new employer, although kindly at times, is less laudable. For reasons the reader will discover, she justifies her actions by the belief she is entitled to benefit from Edith’s relative good fortune.
The author gives herself the difficult job of presenting Edith and Lauren in such a way that the reader can understand, if not forgive, the worst elements of their characters. I think she largely succeeds. Both characters come to life on the page, whether that’s through Edith’s precise and grammatically correct way of speaking (what Lauren would call ‘posh’) or Lauren’s more colloquial style.
The book includes flashbacks to 1950s East Africa during the period of the Mau Mau uprising, told partly from the point of view of a sixteen-year-old girl, Charity. Many of her experiences are shocking and hard to read. Equally disturbing are the reactionary views expressed by Edith’s family and future husband about the indigenous people of Kenya. Even if one man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist, references to native Kenyans as ‘savages’ who need to be rehabilitated into responsible citizens were upsetting to read. Unpleasant contemporary parallels came to mind, such as China’s treatment of the Uighur people. Although I had heard of the Mau Mau uprising, I knew very little detail about it. Charity has rectified that omission.
The book is an assured and impressive debut that reveals the truth about a shocking period in Britain’s colonial history. And what starts as an exploration of the dynamics of an intergenerational relationship progresses to something much darker and more complicated; a story of guilt, betrayal, manipulation and revenge.
My thanks to Simon Edge at Eye & Lightning Books for my digital review copy. To read more reviews, follow the blog tour which starts today (see tour banner at the bottom of this post).
In three words: Insightful, authentic, powerful
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About the Author
Madeline Dewhurst studied English at Queen’s University Belfast and went on to complete an MA in Research and a PhD at Queen Mary, University of London. She also has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway. She is an academic in English and Creative Writing at the Open University.
Her previous writing includes fiction, journalism and drama. Charity, which was longlisted for the Bath Novel Award, is her first novel. She now lives in Kent. (Photo credit: Facebook author page)