The Rise and Fall of Lucy Charlton, Elizabeth Gill
A gritty, emotional saga about a tragic loss, a mysterious inheritance, and one woman’s determination to succeed in the male-dominated society of 1920s north England
1920, Durham. Since she was a child, Lucy Charlton has dreamed of working with her father in the family law firm. But a scandal shatters her dreams and, when her father disowns her, she finds herself on the streets, fighting for survival. Joe Hardy has returned to London after the Great War to find his life in tatters—his father is dead and his pregnant fiancée has disappeared. Then Joe learns he has unexpectedly inherited an old river house in Durham from a stranger called Margaret Lee. With nothing left for him in London, he makes arrangements to travel north and claim it. Lucy’s determination has finally secured her a job as a legal secretary, campaigning for the rights of the poorest in society. As Joe arrives in her office to collect the keys to his new home, she promises to help him uncover information about his mystery benefactor. But before long, the past comes back to haunt them both, with shocking consequences.
This story begins with Lucy being disowned by her family and cast out of her home, not the most cheery beginning. We then meet Joe, who is returning from France to find out his father is dead and his fiancee has run off. I was definitely a little worried this would be a very depressing book at this point. I liked Lucy though and I liked her determination to survive despite her family. I enjoyed reading about a young woman determined to push the boundaries of what society deemed acceptable for a young woman of her station. In the beginning I found Joe to be somewhat less likeable, yes, he did come home to find nothing of what he expected, but he was far too willing to be carried along by the tragedies at first. Thankfully he did come around into a likeable character. I also liked the various minor characters of the friends and neighbors that Lucy and Joe picked up along the way.
The description for this book made it sound as though Lucy was rallying on the streets for her cause for the poor in general and I found that to be misleading. Lucy’s drive to become a solicitor is to help others and the results are rather vague. You’re told she’s successful and beloved in the office, but the only people you personally see her helping are her neighbors in Durham, you don’t meet her clients. I’m not downplaying the events with her friends and neighbors as they were central to the story, but I think this tries to sell the book as a bit more than it is. I think I was expecting more of a strident social activist or feminist like Emmeline Pankhurst.
This book definitely did wrap up all details happily, but not in the way I expected at the beginning. I enjoyed the story overall.
I will say as a warning/spoiler that there is some sexual violence. I don’t think it was out of line for the story nor was it excessive, but it did surprise me and might have been part of my initial hesitation when I started this book.
Thank you NetGalley and Quercus Books for this advance read copy!