Tag Archives: music hall

Book review: The Ghost of Lily Painter

Caitlin DaviesCaitlin Davies blends fact and fiction in The Ghost of Lily Painter, an unusual story sparked from the author’s interest in her own house in Holloway, North London. In 2008, Annie Sweet moves into 43 Stanley Road with her husband and daughter. The house is chilly, the dog won’t stop barking, and her husband leaves her. Is there a bad spirit in the house which is bringing bad luck? Annie begins to explore the house’s history and discovers a music hall performer, Lily Painter, lived there briefly at the beginning of the twentieth century. What happened to her? Why does she disappear?

This is a well-researched historical story about turn-of-the-century music hall, the dilemma facing unmarried pregnant women, baby farms and modern-day family history research. It’s a fascinating tangle of three viewpoints across a century: Annie Sweet and her actress daughter Molly, Inspector William George who lived at 43 Stanley Road in 1901; and one of his lodgers, Miss Lily Painter. The baby farms narrative is based on the real lives of Amelia Sach and Annie Walters, the first women to be hanged at Holloway Prison in 1902. They were baby farmers, women offering a lying-in service where women could deliver their babies then pay for their children to be adopted by ‘ladies’. Many of the babies never made it to their new homes. A terrible true story.

My only disappointment is that the ends are tied together too neatly, with a coincidence easily-spotted rather early in the story.

Read about Caitlin Davies’ other books here.

If you like ‘The Ghost of Lily Painter’, try these other ghostly books:-
‘A Sudden Light’ by Garth Stein
‘Dark Matter’ by Michelle Paver
‘The Winter Ghosts’ by Kate Mosse

‘The Ghost of Lily Painter by Caitlin Davies [UK: Windmill Books] Buy at Amazon

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE GHOST OF LILY PAINTER by @CaitlinDavies2 #bookreview via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-29C

#BookReview ‘Orphans of the Carnival’ by @CarolBirch #historical

What to say about this unusual novel by Carol Birch? First, I loved part of it. Second, I didn’t realize until I got to the end that it is loosely-based on a true story. If you loved Birch’s Jamrach’s Menagerie, try this. Carol BirchA young veiled woman travels by train from Mexico to New Orleans. She is disfigured but we don’t know the exact details until quite a way into the book: this is a novel which rewards patient reading. Julia Pastrana becomes a music hall attraction – singing, dancing, playing a guitar – while undergoing examinations by doctors who proclaim her part-human. Her successive managers make the most of the doctors’ pronouncements. This is a linear narrative, Julia’s life story, driven by her search for unconditional love.
The real Julia Pastrana had large ears and nose, irregular teeth and straight black hair all over her body. Despite her obvious intelligence – she spoke three languages – the myths continued until her death. It is an indictment of the way people not considered ‘normal’ were treated in the 19th century, seeing them as attractions rather than people with feelings.
The modern-day storyline of Rose, a young woman who collects unwanted items, was, for me, an unnecessary distraction from the main story. The obvious connection between the two women is their struggle to fit into society, though Rose is more of an emotional drifter.

Click the title for a brief taster of Carol Birch’s JAMRACH’S MENAGERIE.

If you like this, try:-
‘An Appetite for Violets’ by Martine Bailey
‘The Miniaturist’ by Jessie Burton
‘Frog Music’ by Emma Donoghue

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
ORPHANS OF THE CARNIVAL by @CarolBirch #bookreview via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-29G