Lily by Rose Tremain is subtitled A Tale of Revenge. It begins in 1850 when on a freezing cold night a young policeman Sam Trench discovers a tiny baby which has been abandoned by her mother in a park near Bethnal Green, London. He takes the baby to the nearby London Foundling Hospital, better known as Coram, a home for orphans. The babies that end up there are farmed out to people in the country until they are six years old. The couples are given ten shillings a month to bring up the children so it’s just a way of making ends meet for them. But Lily’s foster family, farmers in rural Suffolk, Nellie and Perkin Buck grow to love her. At the end of the six years the unsuspecting Lily is dragged away from Nellie, the woman she loved like a mother and who loved her too, as did Perkin and their sons, they want to keep her but aren’t allowed to.
Then begins a nightmarish existence for Lily at the hands of the cruel sisters (presumably nuns) of the Coram. No toys or fun for the children who have to work, picking okum, scrubbing, washing clothes, sewing. Lily has been taught sewing skills by Nellie, but her skills don’t help her avoid the abuse and terror of the place.
It’s a twisted form of Christianity that’s taught there, but when Lily gets work as a wigmaker when she’s old enough to leave the hospital, the fate of the girls still left behind at the orphanage haunts her.
This is a really good read, despite the fact that it is a wee bit disjointed at the beginning, and it doesn’t have chapters, something that I dislike as I like to read to the end of a chapter before putting a book down and no chapters makes it difficult to break off. Having said that, I’m hoping that there will be a sequel to this book.
This is only the second book by Tremain that I’ve read, I read Merival previously and really liked that one too.
I was sent a digital copy of this book by the publisher via NetGalley. Thank you. The book is due to be published on the 11th of November 2021.
The second bookshop in Aberdeen that we visited is a charity one right in the Merkat Square and as the books are all donated they sell them very cheaply. I bought:
1. The Century’s Daughter by Pat Barker
2. The Rendezvous by Daphne du Maurier
3. The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay
4. Beautiful Just! by Lillian Beckwith
5. Green Hand by Lillian Beckwith
6. Bruach Blend by Lillian Beckwith
7. The Spuddy by Lillian Beckwith
8. The Road Home by Rose Tremain
9. A Pack of Lies by Geraldine McCaughrean
10. Young Bess by Margaret Irwin
11. The Cockle Ebb by Isabel Cameron
12. The Herries Chronicle by Hugh Walpole This is an omnibus consisting of four books which are set in the Lake District/Cumbria area, and first published in 1939 although mine is a 1955 reprint.
Visiting St Andrews just after Christmas I bought a lovely edition of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, illustrated by Arthur Rackham. You can see some of the illustrations here. – also from St Andrews – Young Bess by Margaret Irwin, and the postman brought me –
In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S. Haasse.
That lot should keep me going for a while. Have you read any of them?
In Rosie: Scenes from a vanished life by Rose Tremain the author has written about her family history, going back to the memories that she had of her maternal grandparent’s home, a place that she and her sister adored visiting, despite the fact that their grandmother was remote and gave them no love. She had been traumatised by the death of her two sons years before, one was killed in World War I but before that another had died while at school when he was only 16. Rose Tremain’s mother had suffered from this unloving mother who mourned all her life for her lost beloved sons, forgetting that she still had a daughter who was alive. In fact the daughter’s very presence seems to have been a source of pain and at the age of only six she was sent away to a boarding school, despite the school supposedly not taking in girls until they were at least eight.
It’s that daughter, Rose’s mother, who went on to replicate that unloving and selfish behaviour when her own daughters were born, but the abusive upbringing seems not to have been carried on by Rose Tremain’s generation, almost certainly because for most of their formative years Rose and her sister were lucky enough to get a lot of love from their beloved and selfless nanny. Leaving the parents to get on with all sorts of bed-hopping which culminated in ‘dolly mixture’ families of step-siblings.
I’m assuming that Rose Tremain will go on to write another book about her later life, but obviously she felt that there was a lot that she had to get off her chest about her parents in particular. Her father was neglectful too, a not very successful playwright, whose existence did at least make her realise that it would be possible for her to become a writer eventually.
Rose was a good student and was expected to get into Oxford but at the age of 15 she was ripped away from her studies by her mother who was determined that her daughter was not going to go to university. A finishing school in Switzerland was what she got instead, but luckily it hasn’t held Rose Tremain back and maybe her experiences abroad and the people she met were inspiring for her later writing.
Sadly Rose Tremain’s mother and grandmother weren’t unique in viewing their daughters with disdain and dislike, determined to put as many obstacles in front of them as possible. I hope that sort of mothering has died out now – but who knows what goes on within any family. I will never forget overhearing my own mother tell her friend that there was no point in putting any effort into daughters as they just grew up to push prams!
This was quite an interesting book, it’s always good to read about the background of a writer, but her fiction is far preferrable to me.
Unusually for me I have no books that I can write about, this is what happens when you get stuck into the knitting season instead of reading – and when you choose to read Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant. This one has been waiting for me to pick it up for years. It’s a Virago and has quite small print and 495 pages, but I only have 80 to go and I’m very much enjoying it. Just in case you don’t know, the Scottish surname Marjoribanks is pronounced Marchbanks. This one has been on my Classics Club list since I joined years and years ago, and I’m now on my second list of classics.
I have still been buying books, unsurprisingly and have recently added these ones to the piles:
The Rendezvous and other stories by Daphne du Maurier
The Reason Why by Cecil Woodham-Smith (about the Charge of the Light Brigade)
The Double Image by Helen MacInnes
The African Queen by C.S. Forester (I could act the film myself, but if it’s on TV I find myself watching it again).
Midwinter Nightingale by Joan Aiken
Scotland’s Hidden History by Ian Armit (featuring standing stones and more)
From that place that I’m not supposed to be visiting – the library, I have:
Rosie Scenes from a vanished life by Rose Tremain
The Marches by Rory Stewart
They are both blogpal recommendations, and lastly
Le Testament Francais by Andrei Makine
That last one will count towards the Reading Europe Challenge. Have you read any of these books?
Merivel by Rose Tremain was first published in 2012 and it’s the first book by that author that I’ve read.
The setting is Restoration England although the main character Sir Robert Merivel travels to Versailles and Switzerland for a while. Merivel is a physician and courtier to King Charles II, in fact in the past Merivel had become a professional cuckold, marrying Celia his wife so that the King could have her as a mistress, the deal being that Merivel was given a very generous annual stipend, with the promise that he didn’t ever try to sleep with Celia.
Even when Celia died the king continued with the payments, and Merivel leads a very comfortable life with his daughter by a second ‘wife’. But he wants to advance in his career and thinks that visiting the French Court at Versailles might be the way to do it. That’s a bit of an eye opener for him as his letter of introduction from the King to his cousin Louis is of no interest to those in charge at Versailles.
I’ll definitely be reading more books by Rose Tremain, at times this one is a real Restoration romp, which means bawdy sex as it was a free and easy age, so this one isn’t for the prudish.
Last weekend we drove north up to Inverness so that Jack could watch his beloved Dumbarton FC playing against Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Don’t ask – it was a disaster!
Anyway, on the road up we stopped off at the fairly famous bookshop at Pitlochry railway station. I was a wee bit miffed as they didn’t have many of the old hardbacks that I’ve been lucky in getting in previous trips there. However I did buy:
Merivel A Man of His Time by Rose Tremain – a 2012 paperback
Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster – a 1929 hardback
The Easter Party by V. Sackville-West – a 1953 hardback
From Priory books just off Pitlochry High Street I bought:
Pastoral by Nevil Shute – a 1950 hardback
A quick trip to Dingwall, a small town north of Inverness resulted in us discovering TWO second-hand book-shops there. I was flabbergasted and left wondering if the long hard winters up in the Highlands mean that there are a lot of keen readers around the area.
One of the shops has the wonderful name of Picaresque Books and Galerie Fantoosh as you can see from the photo. (Fantoosh is a Scottish word meaning overly fancy.) The shop is a mixture of old books and works of art in the shape of paintings, pottery and jewellery – it’s a lovely shop with very friendly owners.
Anyway, I bought:
Novel Notes by Jerome K Jerome – an 1893 hardback
Reputation for a Song by Edward Grierson – a green Penguin crime from 1955
Cork in the Doghouse by Macdonald Hastings – a green Penguin crime from 1961
Have you read any of these ones?
I came home feeling slightly disappointed by my haul, which I think you’ll agree must mean that I’m getting positively greedy in my old age!