“It was a wet day. The rain had turned the roads to sludge. Everyone unlucky enough to be out on the streets hurried past Queenie, without even glancing at the heap of fruit she’d polished to gleaming on her skirts. no matter how hard she shouted, ‘PENNY A LOT, FINE RUSSETS!’ or, ‘EIGHT A PENNY, STUNNING PEARS!’”
Queenie and her father seem fruit on the streets of victorian London, the family rarely has two coins to rub together. There are seven of them all living in one room and when Da disappears for days, sometimes weeks, on end her mother has to turn to other means to make money.
Ellen is a privileged young lady, the daughter of an upstanding doctor of science she has never known squalor. One day a cousin happens upon their doorstep and she no longer feels so alone.
When Queenie finally has enough of having to live in the slum, she manages to secure a job as a maid in the posh part of town. Things aren’t as shiny as they seem there though and soon both girls are questioning the rights and wrongs of their actions and trying to put things right.
I love historical fiction and when this book came out earlier this year I knew that it was a must read for me. The main topic is baby farming and it really hits the nail on the head when it comes to the horrors of Victorian London and the problems facing women in those times.
The story is fantastic, I couldn’t get over how well it was written and absolutely loved the duel perspective and the way the voice changed for Queenie and Ellen. Ellen’s parts were done in first erson narrative and Queenie’s in third, at the beginning I thought this was for ease of working out who was being focussed on at the time but I think the reason may be different now that I’ve completed the book. Ellen’s chapters got more into her head as they were first person and you really understood how much things effected her. She was so naive though and thats what got her into the situation in the first place I guess.
The book really focussed on the problems surrounding women of the time, how they weren’t viewed as equals and what lengths they went to to ensure their reputations weren’t tarnished or that their family was cared for. You have Queenie’s Mam turning to prostitution to pay for the family when her Da clears off, and the story of the maid and Ellen’s father, which I worked out way before it was revealed, then Ellen herself and the other women who turn up at the house where Queenie works. The reaction of Ellen’s father was awful and just how terrible it would have been to go through what she went through is unimaginable for me.
The book is really well written and you can tell some of it is based on fact. The two women who run the baby farms are awful, well Mrs Waters is anyway, Mrs Ellis is an accessory to the awfulness, and they were real people according to the author’s note at the back for the book. I would have liked to have known more about the things that Queenie discovered in the house they kept but I think that might have made them more human so perhaps it was better those things were kept a bit mysterious. The scariest thing about the book was that the idea of baby farming and ‘the Quietness’ isn’t fiction. Its truth based on historical accounts, about how babies were taken for a fee then drugged up to keept quiet and then died through starvation, its a horrible truth and hard to read about but mixed in with Queenie and Ellen’s stories I could just about manage it.
I really did love this book and I hope that the author writes more based in Victorian London if not about a similar kind of topic. I would definitely recommend this to any historical fiction lovers, and any Mary Hooper fans reading this.
The Quietness was published in March 2013 by Hot Key Books. My copy was purchased from a bookstore.
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