This novel’s cover does not fully prepare you for Fielding’s fascinating narrative. Yes, there is a clue to Lucy’s developing allegiances, but I missed it at first glance and this is not simply the gently-observed society novel that perhaps the cover suggests. This, as far as I am concerned, is a far more interesting read than that – Fielding has clearly done a huge amount of research and the novel is rich in its period details. It tells the story of Lady Lucy Fitzmartin, a seemingly quiet and reserved heiress, and her maid, Hester, set within the political turmoil of the 1930s.
Lucy is an intriguing character. Hinting at a previous trauma, Fielding develops her young heiress’ story in unexpected ways and she is not a conventional romantic heroine. The hints about her character are there from the start, but I found Lucy’s emerging political leanings an interesting angle on the interwar narrative. Like so many of that period, Lucy is caught up in the ideological battles of those in power, and her views are not easy to swallow at times. This is a daring move on Fielding’s part – she asks us, particularly early on, to sympathise with Lucy, whilst sometimes making it really quite difficult. Hester’s character is the foil here, and their relationship is both brilliant and refreshing. As the novel progresses, I felt that Hester’s voice was being eclipsed a little by Lucy’s story, and, without giving anything away, I’d love to know what happens next.
I also liked the character of Hester’s sister, Sophie. She’s as ambitious as Lucy, but has more stacked against her. This is a real strength of this novel – it looks intently at the difficulties women from all levels of society face in a male and increasingly tense world. The threat of war, the threat of violence, embodied by Mosley’s Blackshirts, hang over their lives and, ultimately, determine their choices.
‘Flirtatious and vain girls always came to a sticky end, according to all the stories in the world. But then, the same stories condemned most girls who tried to take their destiny in their own hands.’
This is a fascinating book, one with very memorable scenes and themes. There were times when I was unclear as to Lucy’s reasons for the path she takes, but then Lucy herself sometimes battles with her own thoughts and actions. She is a product of her youth and of her age, and all the old certainties of class and politics are crumbling. Fielding has built up a strong, compelling narrative. I enjoyed this novel, and I look forward to reading more of her work.
Thanks to the author and Netgalley for providing a copy for review.