Good Morning from a very grumpy Lizzy, not only was I kept up till 3am by a raving party in my living room but this morning the electricity was out and the key to top it up had mysteriously disappeared. Annoyed was the emotion I was feeling to say the least this morning. However after a number of errands we’re all back up and running once again and I can bring this new review, which I really hope you enjoy. It’s a book from my favourite genre, that being historical fiction, but if I’m honest I found this a tough read. I’m not sure whether it’s because I’ve been a little off reading the last month or so but I kept with it and I’m very happy to bring you a positive review. Enjoy!
Set on Watling Street, in a fictional area of limestone hills, Mrs McKeiver’s Secrets is a microcosm of England in the late 18th century – where all the problems facing rural villages are considered. This includes the horror of landlessness, the price of food and the threat of starvation as a once settled rural community is rocked to its core by the effects of the Hills’ Enclosure Act 1795. Mrs McKeiver has lived in the Hills for twenty years. Enough time for her to be accepted as the local midwife. She treats her women with herbal remedies, of her own making, and most importantly, with love. By 1799, after two bad harvests and four years of landlessness, she manages to get more organised help for desperately poor families. As an observant midwife, she encourages the Reverend Reeves and local farmers to contribute to the provision of any meat and spare food, for those on Parish Poor Relief. The Parish House has problems of the worse kind, with a heartless overseer; its women and orphaned children needing her help. In amongst, she has to deal with two pressing problems herself. Firstly, how does she increase her paltry income? Wheat prices are rising daily and meals are becoming more difficult, even for her and, secondly, will she have to marry again, to feed herself and her crippled adult son? And if so, to whom?
This is honestly wonderful once you get into it, which I must admit it did take a while for me to. The first thing to say is that the cover is gorgeous and it really fits the story inside which is always a bonus for me. Set in the late 18th century in the English countryside Mrs McKeiver is an angel to the people that come to her for help in all of the roles that she fulfils as the very well respected local lady including doctor, midwife, nurse, match maker and social worker. Although most of her abilities come from her technical skills it also comes from the interest she takes in every single person she comes into contact with. This is all while dealing with her own painful personal life and looking after her son who has been disabled by polio.
What was so wonderful and enjoyable about this book is that it feels as though the author has walked the life that she tells. The writing is both realistic, warm, and honest. At times it is utterly brutal in the telling but that makes it all the more real. It is like she lived the book as it reads which means that this book has and will continue to leave a lasting impression on me. Unlike most historical fiction I have read this does not focus on battles or on royalty but instead takes the reader on a journey to discover what happen to ordinary country people during 1977 and the terrible effects of the Enclosure Acts. It is not a pretty tale as I have already said but it touches on a number issues that affected the people of the time including sex, disability, pain, illness and the lack of food. However in contrast to this the courage of Mrs McKeiver and her ways of offering help in the most difficult of times is gritty but very realistic. Her usage of scraps to make food for the people that call by and her ways of grinding herbs is both wonderfully in-depth and inspiring in comparison to our lives in 2015. She deals with the hard life she has been dealt with maturity, love and affection all created through the wisdom she holds that has been handed down generation to generation.
In terms of the writing of the book it is really solid, there has obviously been tonnes of research done into the back-story of the characters and it shows a real understanding of the genre as a whole. The reason I love historical fiction is that it has the ability to transport you to a completely different time in history and if it’s not done well it makes less of an impact however here you really feel that you are in the cold and barren English countryside. The speech takes a little while to get used to because it is a little old fashioned but this only adds to the books charm. If you’re looking for something with a lot of action then this probably isn’t the book for you but it does still move with pace and there is a lot of interesting interweaving stories and drama in a more subtle way. My only slight negative comment is that it did take a few chapters for me to really get into it. I think it’s because it is a little more subtly written but I would really say that it’s worth sticking with because once you do it really is a wonderful tale.
Buy a copy of the book here