Book Reviews

The Poor Relation * Susanna Bavin

Poor old love? Her heart beat an indignant tattoo. She felt like walloping young Mr Dearden round the ear. And she hadn’t been sighing – had she? Ah. Not sighs, but huffs of outrage. If only she could write her resignation and slap it on Mr Treadgold’s desk, right under his patronising nose. But Dadda worked upstairs, and the thought that Mr Treadgold would fetch him to drum sense into her was too humiliating for words.

1908, Manchester. Mary Maitland is an attractive and intelligent young woman determined to strike out on her own and earn a living. Finding work at a women’s employment agency, her creative talent is soon noticed and Mary begins writing articles for newspapers and magazines. But being of independent and progressive mind are troublesome traits when those you hold dear must constantly live up to the expectations of the well-to-do family to which they are linked. With increasing pressures from the powers that be, can Mary find the fine line between honouring her family and honouring herself?

We mainly follow Mary during her journey, but we also get some glimpses of other characters POV once in a while, and that help us understand the overall of the story and the dynamics of the family and friendship relationships, as well as the differences in the various classes. And that was something I found very good because it gave me extra information that later made me understand the developments of the story.

Mary bit down on a smile so she couldn’t grin like an idiot. She was about to strike off in a new direction, she really was – and she would make the most of whatever opportunities came her way. Now she had to confess at home where she had been and try to talk her parents round. Dadda wouldn’t be pleased. Neither would Lilian, not to start with, but if she could get Lilian on her side, that would go a long way towards smoothing things with Dadda.

The characters were brilliantly written and their interaction as quite interesting and truly take us back in time with those dynamics. There were some characters that I absolutely loved since the very beginning, including Mary of course, they were the kind of people I would love to me, interesting, vibrant, concern about social aspects because of the people and not status, friendly, intelligent and concern about others. Then there were those that made me so mad, they reminded me of some family members and people in my past and that made them just are real as all the others, but it got my mind spinning with their futility. Then again it was the all point, and it was what made them different.

‘I’m not like Imogen. Your sister told me how she devoted her life to your care. I won’t be like that. I’ll be a good wife and mother, but I’m other things as well. I have my writing, as well as wanting to take an active interest in social reform.’

As I was reading, the book kept becoming more interesting with each page and each chapter, and I found myself not being able to put it down. Although it didn’t have a crazy busy pace, it did have one that was more calmer, except at certain action moments, and it certainly made me stay connected to each moment and wondering what would happen next.

As ever Susanna Bavin’s grasp of history, geography and story telling weave a good tale. Just don’t sit down for a ‘quick coffee’ and expect to be away before tea!

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