REVIEW: The Foundling, Stacey Halls #BLOGTOUR

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

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 - the last thing she expects to hear is that her daughter has already been reclaimed - by 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' 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.

Another novel by Stacey Halls, another startlingly vivid piece of historical fiction.
Spend a minute and take in the sights: the filth of the London streets, rats scampering, children playing. How different the world is, how similar.
Focussing centrally on the infamous London Foundling Hospital (which is now a museum in Brunswick Square if you fancy popping along), Halls' atmospheric second novel examines class difference in Georgian England in all of its horrific glory.
And believe me, there's plenty of horror in these pages and none of it supernatural.
For most, if not all, working-class women, children were an issue. Beautiful and loved, yes, but one all the same. After-all, more children meant more mouths to feed and for many, no matter how much they wished for it to, money just did not stretch that far. The poverty most experienced was a desperate, all-encompassing kind that left penniless mothers with two options: give their children to the Foundling Hospital, or watch them slowly starve to death.
For me, a privileged white woman in the twenty-first century, the situation is unimaginable; the emotional trauma earth-shattering.
And, only through the story of Bess Bright is the heartbreaking reality of the tale brought to life.
Bess bridges the gap of time: her story is old, but her wants and desires are timeless. And, through her, the audience gets a picture of London not unlike a fictionalised version of The Five by Hallie Rubenhold: the inequalities of the classes, the realities of poverty, the hand-to-mouth nature of a new kind of capitalism.
Life was hard, the people harder and, in a high-stakes reality, Bess is willing to risk everything to reunite with the daughter she tried to save by giving up - after-all, how could anything happen to her that is worse than the life she is already living?

Thanks to Bonnier, Zaffre and Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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