Tag Archives: Rose Tremain

#BookReview ‘Lily’ by Rose Tremain #historical #foundling #orphan

The sub-title of Lily by Rose Tremain is ‘A Tale of Revenge’ and on the first page we learn that sixteen-year-old Lily Mortimer is a murderer and expects to die soon. It is a compelling beginning. Rose TremainThis is the story of Lily’s life from when as a baby she was found abandoned in a sack being attacked by wolves. Found by a police officer she is taken to London’s Foundling Hospital from where she is placed with a foster family at Rookery Farm in Suffolk. A beautiful telling of a difficult childhood, softened by Tremain’s exquisite writing, Lily shows Victorian London where charitable works sometimes work for the orphaned child and sometimes against. It explores the nature of happiness in a rural life, often hard, but surrounded by love. At the age of six, Lily is returned to London and forbidden contact with her foster parents, Nellie and Perkin Buck, who were paid for their care of her and, after delivering her, collect a new foster baby. Lily is courageous, pragmatic, rebellious and, throughout the harsh years that follow, is sustained by the memory of Nellie’s love. And so starts the cycle of Lily’s life, of hope followed by despair.
Lily’s friendship with fellow orphan Bridget is very touching. It reminded by of Jane Eyre’s friendship with Helen Burns at Lowood, a story that has stayed with me ever since first reading the novel as a teenager.
The almost-adult Lily, dreaming of her death, wonders, ‘Whyever did I struggle so long and so hard to make my way in a place which was bent on my destruction ever since I came into it? Why did I not surrender to death when I was a child, for children’s pictures of death are fantastical and full of a strange beauty?’ The story changes pace when Lily realises she cannot put the past behind her, she must face what she did and why.
The timeline flits back and forth a bit between Lily as a child, in Suffolk and at the Hospital where she is trained for menial employment, and as an adult when she works at the gloriously named and imagined Belle Prettywood’s Wig Emporium which makes wigs for opera and stage productions. It is in the older voice that we learn more about the murder she committed. This is not a murder mystery or a whodunnit, it’s not even a who-was-it-done-to. It’s about a girl who survives an abusive, neglectful childhood by giving and receiving love, kindness and compassion, who learns how to survive alone in the world. Yes, Lily is vulnerable. She longs to love and be loved, but she’s also resilient, despite everything.
Compelling, difficult to put down. Beautifully written.

Here are my review of THE GUSTAV SONATA and ISLANDS OF MERCY, also by Rose Tremain.

If you like this, try:-
The Rose Garden’ by Tracy Rees
The Walworth Beauty’ by Michèle Roberts
The Quick’ by Lauren Owen

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
LILY by Rose Tremain #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5t5 via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Islands of Mercy’ by Rose Tremain #historical

In Bath, England in 1865, such are Jane Adeane’s nursing skills that she is known as the Angel of the Baths. Islands of Mercy by Rose Tremain is about Jane’s destiny to make something of herself, a journey which involves choosing between a tempestuous love affair with another woman and marriage to a respectable doctor. Being the Angel of the Baths is not enough for her and this impacts on the lives of everyone around her. Rose Tremain

Islands of Mercy is in fact three stories in one, lightly linked together by the merest connection and fleeting physical meeting. The story starts with Clorinda Morrissey who arrives in Bath from Ireland. ‘She was not beautiful, but she had a smile of great sweetness and a soft voice that could soothe and calm the soul’. By selling a ruby necklace, a family heirloom, Clorinda sets up what becomes a highly popular tea room. It is in this tea room that she first sees Jane Adeane who is taking tea with a man. Jane leaves abruptly and Clorinda is curious why. The man concerned is Doctor Valentine Ross, medical partner of Jane’s father Sir William Adeane and brother of naturalist Edmund Ross, currently pursing butterflies in the Malay Archipelago. In this scene, all three storylines are kickstarted.

The narrative moves back and forth from Bath to London, Dublin and Ireland’s west coast to Borneo. Each place is drawn vividly, Tremain is excellent at settings. In her descriptions of heterosexual and homosexual relationships, she explores the social limitations of the time on the free expression of love for men and women. While Jane can explore her own feelings for another woman only in extreme secrecy and risk of rejection by society, in Borneo a rich ‘rajah’ and his dependent servant live openly. Can Jane make her own way in the world or must she be conventional and marry a man. And can Clorinda’s independence at the tea shop continue or will she come to regret her sale of the ruby necklace. Is money necessary for happiness.

This is an unpredictable read. As Jane’s father Sir William comments, ‘We are overtaken by flashes of lightning and brilliant storms, and we can only submit.’ All the characters act on impulse and not all their decisions make sense, in particular Valentine’s behaviour changes so rapidly he seems a different man.

I was left with mixed feelings. As a Tremain fan dating back to The Colour, I wanted to enjoy this book more than I did. The writing, as always, is of the highest quality but it feels like three novels squeezed into one. I wanted to read more about Clorinda’s story, or concentrate on Jane, rather than go to Borneo which felt like an interruption to the main narrative.

My favourite Tremain novel remains The Colour. Read my review of Tremain’s The Gustav Sonata and see If books were food, ‘The Colour’ would be…

If you like this, try:-
At Mrs Lippincote’s’ by Elizabeth Taylor
Stanley and Elsie’ by Nicola Upson
Blackberry and Wild Rose’ by Sonia Velton

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
ISLANDS OF MERCY by Rose Tremain #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-55D via @SandraDanby