Published by Bloomsbury in 2010, paperback version published in 2011
Book kindly sent by publisher for an honest review.
Grace, holding on tightly to her precious burden, found the station entrance without much difficulty. The Necropolis Railway ran, just as Mrs Smith the midwife had said, on its own special line from Waterloo to Brookwood Cemetery in the county of Surrey, and it was at the London station, just before eleven o'clock, that the newly bereaved gathered, all dressed in the first stage of deep mourning.
The year is 1861 and we find ourselves accompanying Grace as she sets out on a journey that every woman fears, let alone a young teenage girl. She commits herself to doing what she sees as write as she heads towards Brookwood Cemetery with her precious bundle. From then on, life seems to become harder each day as Grace struggles to make enough money to pay the rent and provide food for her and her sister, Lily, to eat. When things reach an all time low, Grace takes up an offer she can no longer refused and goes to work for the Unwins, a rather dangerous family, who will stop at nothing to get as much as they can. Even if it means defrauding Grace....
This book is one of those that targets all your senses with it rich descriptions that bring Victorian London to life. From the very first chapter, you discover the unexpected and find yourself wanting more. The book is written in third person and you get to see the story from a range of characters viewpoints, with Grace being the most dominant character in the story.
Poor Grace has suffered for most of her life. She is strong and courageous,even when her life can't get any worse. Her mind is always jumping one step ahead, as she tries to calculate how she can improve their situation. She may be the younger of the two sisters, but she takes control of their lives, as poor Lily is not strong in her mind. In fact, Lily reminded me of Lenny from Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, with her simple views on life.
Deceit plays a huge part of this story. You begin to be thankful that you didn't live during the Victorian era, where everyone appears to be on the make. The Unwins are the most devious and unscrupulous family I have ever come across. The lengths they will go to ensure their wealth expands are extreme. They basically conned many grieving families to purchase a funeral, far outside of their financial limits, by making them feel guilty.
I was fascinated by the descriptions of the full mourning period. It had never occurred to me that grieving families would go to such great lengths after a beloved family member had passed. I understood the need for mourning clothes, but to be worn for such a long time, seems absurd now.
I had never heard of mutes being part of a funeral before. I was fascinated by their roles in the proceedings. The following sentences piqued my interest and had me searching for more information.
'Mutes are very much in demand at society funerals,' Mrs Unwin said. They can come with hooded cloaks, or appear as Grace is now: with black bonnets and trailing ribbons. 'Weepers', we call the ribbons- they symbolize the tears shed.'
'They usually come in pairs,' Mr Unwin went on smoothly, ' and spaced each side of a front door can look very tragic.'
I love the way the author has intertwined so many facts within the story. I had no idea that Marble Arch had been moved from its original home. I was also surprised to discover that the Necropolis Railway actually existed. You can tell that this book was thoroughly researched, especially with the inclusion of extra historical information at the back, which I found fascinating.
At the beginning of each chapter, there were informative boxes which added to the story and showed examples of life in Victorian England. I was extremely pleased to discover the inclusion of Victoria and Albert in the story, which gave it an air of authenticity.
I really really loved this story. It was just so rich in description and atmosphere that I found myself lost in the Victorian streets of London. The story was well paced and developed with twists that I had not been aware of.
If you like historical fiction, especially books set in Victorian London, then I would highly recommend this book, which is full of Victorian flavour. A book that will find you researching to discover more. I honestly can't wait to read more of Mary Hooper's books.