New Hampshire, 1929, and an eager young salesmen proposes to a young bank worker he hardly knows. He thinks she is beautiful and she lays aside his flaws, as she might a small stain on a beautifully embroidered tablecloth. Pure and dignified, she begins her new life as a married woman, with high hopes, but both the Wall Street crash and oppressive working conditions for the city’s mill workers (who are readying to strike), mean that the newlywed’s love and resilience is to be tested to its limits.
Honora reaches down to touch the fabric in the carton. Faded chintz, and something else. A framed photograph tucked in to the side of the box, as if snatched from a dresser at the last minute. A photograph of a woman and a boy. Years ago, Honora thinks, studying the dress that falls nearly to the ankle. The stairs creak under her weight, which even with the bedding isn’t much. At the top of the stairs a sense of emptiness overwhelms her and for the first time she feels the enormity of the task ahead of her.
This is one of Anita’s better texts, and captured my attention, particularly for the excellent and subtle way she not only describes the scenes but in addition, conveys the emotions of the characters and the atmosphere and life of the era.
Though McDermott is just twenty, already he is a loom fixer. Her has been in the mills since he was twelve, the day his father pissed off. Every day, except Sundays the din rises up around him and makes a hollow sucking sound in his ears, as if he had dived in to the ocean and was trying to come up for air. He repairs broken looms and checks others to make sure the cloth is weaving properly. He hates his job, since the bosses have ordered the machines to go at a faster and faster speed.
This novel also gave me a snapshot of the difficulties of everyday life and the stoicism of the women living in that era. The ingenuity of their saving ways: how every last object was saved and turned into something useful. Nothing was wasted.
The people of this time were the original recycling environmentalists! A woollen jumper full of holes can be un-ravelled and knitted up into a new jumper! A coat that has seen better days or has stains can be un-hemmed, reversed and then transformed into a smaller skirt. These people lived through hard times and not only survived on very little but made very little go a long way.
Communication was reliant on the written word and the postman. Families received invitation for get-togethers, months in advance. Hardship was a common theme, Rich men became poor overnight. And throughout it all, Honora remains composed and unflustered, collecting beautiful pieces of sea glass on her daily beach walks.
The early twentieth century is not that long ago and yet, lives are so very different from then. Thank you Anita, for writing a delightful tale that left me with a smile on my face and something to ponder about.
Rating: 8.5 /10