Saturday 25 May 2013
Review: The Disgrace of Kitty Grey - Mary Hooper
Then one day disaster strikes: Will disappears. Kitty is first worried and then furious. She fears that Will has only been leading her on all this time, and has now gone to London to make his fortune, forgetting about her completely. So when Kitty is asked to go to London to pick up a copy of Pride and Prejudice, the latest novel by the very fashionable Jane Austen, Kitty leaps at the chance to track down Will. But Kitty has no idea how vast London is, and how careful she must be. It is barely a moment before eagle-eyed pickpockets have spotted the country-born-and-bred Kitty and relieved her of her money and belongings. Dauntingly fast, she has lost her only means of returning home and must face the terrifying prospect of stealing in order to survive - and of being named a thief . . .
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Kitty may not be rich but she is happy with her life, she works for a wealthy family as a dairymaid and although her hours are long she is well treated and has plenty of food to eat. She even has a sweetheart, local ferryman Will, who she adores and hopes to one day marry. Then Will disappears leaving Kitty to look after his four year old sister Betsy alone. Will didn't even say goodbye but Kitty knows he has family in London and wanted to go there to make his fortune so when the opportunity comes up she decides to go in search of him to reunite Betsy with her brother. What Kitty didn't realise was how big London is or just quite how harsh life can be there for a woman alone with a young child. Within minutes of their arrival all of their belongings are stolen and Kitty is forced to take desperate measures just to survive, ones that end with her arrested for stealing.
I'm a huge fan of Mary Hooper's writing, she has a way of bringing history to life and I think that's partly down to all the little details she adds to her stories - those little snippets from true stories that show how well researched her books are. I love the way she always introduces some less talked about aspects of history too, in Fallen Grace it was Victorian funeral traditions, in Velvet it was the horror of baby farms and in The Disgrace of Kitty Grey it was the treatment of female prisoners and the prison ships that were sent to colonise Australia along with some very interesting snippets about the life of a milkmaid.
Kitty is such a great character, she is quite innocent, especially when it comes to the ways of city life, but at the same time she has a great inner strength that is what pulls her through the difficult times. Nothing about London is what she was expecting it to be and it was a real struggle for her just to survive, she tries so hard to get a job and earn the money she needs to look after Betsy but circumstances keep going against her. It makes you really appreciate the justice and welfare systems we have in place now because it was practically impossible for single women to make an honest living in the past, especially one with a child because of the stigma of being an unmarried mother. The conditions in the prisons were just horrific for the poor, sentences for relatively small crimes were high and unless you had the money to bribe the guards for extra food or even a blanket then life was miserable. In contrast if you were rich then prison could have all the comforts of home right down to a four poster bed if you paid enough for the privilege!
There were a couple of coincidences in The Disgrace of Kitty Grey that were a little hard to believe but that didn't stop me thoroughly enjoying the story. Kitty was lucky enough to find some supportive friends who made life at Newgate prison a little more bearable for her and Betsy. I think anyone with even a slight interest in history is going to love any of Mary Hooper's books and this one is no exception. I can't wait to see what interesting topic she introduces next.
Source: Received from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
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