I am thrilled to be sharing my review of The Foundling by Stacey Halls today. I loved Stacey’s debut novel, The Familiars (read my review) so I was excited to get a chance to read The Foundling ahead of its publication. I was lucky to get my hands on an early copy at a proof party last September but I’ve only just had a chance to read it.
My thanks to Tracy Fenton for inviting me to be a part of the blog tour and to Manilla Press, for the proof copy of the book.
Before I share my review with you, here is what The Foundling is about.
~ Publisher’s Description ~
Two women, bound by a child, and a secret that will change everything . . .
London, 1754. Six years after leaving her illegitimate daughter Clara at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to reclaim the child she has never known. Dreading the worst, that Clara has died in care, she is astonished when she is told she has already claimed her. Her life is turned upside down as she tries to find out who has taken her little girl – and why.
Less than a mile from Bess’s lodgings in the city, in a quiet, gloomy townhouse on the edge of London, a young widow has not left the house in a decade. When her close friend – an ambitious young doctor at the Foundling Hospital – persuades her to hire a nursemaid for her daughter, she is hesitant to welcome someone new into her home and her life. But her past is threatening to catch up with her and tear her carefully constructed world apart.
From the bestselling author of The Familiars comes this captivating story of mothers and daughters, class and power, and love against the greatest of odds . . .
~ My thoughts ~
Two years ago, I went to The Foundling Museum in Brunswick, London to a book talk. Before the event, we had a chance to look around the museum. One thing that really struck a chord with me were the tokens each mother left when she handed over her baby to the care of the Foundling Hospital. If a mother ever returned to collect her child, she could be identified by the token. Women would mainly leave a piece of fabric from their dresses – one of their few possessions. It was heartbreaking to see the objects on display but stories about the objects owners started playing around in my head. When I went to a party to celebrate The Foundling, Stacey Halls spoke about how the tokens had inspired her novel. In The Foundling, Bess Bright leaves half of a heart made from whalebone when she leaves her baby Clara at the hospital, just hours after her birth.
The Foundling really touched me. The book starts off with Bess going to the Foundling Hospital to hand over Clara because she doesn’t have enough money to care for her. There is a particular event that takes place at the hospital for the benefactors so they can watch mothers handing over their babies. This felt so cruel and unkind. As the book progresses to 6 years later, Bess has worked hard to save all earnings to care for her daughter and returns to the hospital to collect Clara, only to find that another woman got there first. We then follow Bess’s journey to track down her daughter and the woman claiming to be Clara’s mother.
I really liked the character of Bess. She is a strong woman to have handed over her daughter, hoping it would give her a better life. The pain of losing her child and the determination to find her screams off of the pages. Stacey Halls puts so much emotion into her writing. A mother’s love knows no bounds.
The story alternates between Bess’s story and the story of Alexandra Callard. Alexandra is a young widow who has become a recluse, which means her daughter Charlotte does not leave the house either. Alexandra is a cold woman and I did not warm to her until the end of the story. Alexandra’s story is a powerful one and I felt sorry for her.
Bess and Alexandra’s lives are complete contrasts and highlight the class and power struggles at the time. Bess, living in one room with her brother and father, selling fish at the market, saving all the money she can. Alexandra, wealthy and living in a townhouse in Bloomsbury with two servants and Charlotte. Both women’s personalities are contrasts too: Bess, loving and caring; Alexandra, cold and unfeeling.
1700s London is a period of history I am unfamiliar with and I actually don’t feel that comfortable reading historical fiction set in that time. Maybe because I don’t know much about it and I usually find the stories hard work to read. However, Stacey Halls intelligent writing made it easy to read and get into the story. She uses language from the time but yet her prose still feels contemporary. I’ve learnt a lot about London’s history too, for example, how you paid a linkboy to light your path on your journey because there were obviously no street lights – not sure why this has stayed with me! Stacey Halls attention to detail is strong and it plays with the senses like the noise of the carts on the cobbles, the smell of fish in Billingsgate market.
I really enjoyed The Foundling. I think it is equally as good as The Familiars , if not better – they are both outstanding reads – and I am curious to see whose story Stacey Halls tells next.
~ Where to find The Foundling ~
~ About Stacey Halls ~
Stacey Halls grew up in Rossendale, Lancashire, as the daughter of market traders. She studied journalism at the University of Central Lancashire and moved to London aged 21. She was media editor at The Bookseller and books editor at Stylist.co.uk, and has also worked as a journalist for Psychologies, the Independent and Fabulous magazine. TV rights of The Familiars have been sold to The Bureau production company.
~ Follow the tour ~
Be sure to drop by the other stops on the The Foundling blog tour!