Set in the late 18th century with William Blake also part of the foreground to the story, this gives you a brutally honest picture of what life was like in Britain for the working class. Anyone slightly middle class is on the periphery of the story as it deals with working class men and women and how very early in life children were forced to become adults, take on the responsibility and cares of adults and how they managed as well.
Tracy Chevalier brings together a rural Dorsetshire boy Jem and a street smart Londoner Maggie together in a very tender story - not the romance that was expected of the encounters but more of something deeper and unusual for the age of our two youngsters.
Thomas Kellaway moves from rural Dorsetshire with his family after his son dies in a tragic accident, hoping that the move will help them with their grief. He comes to London and joins the Astley's who run a very successful circus. The Kellaways are makers of chairs but they take on carpentry jobs with the circus which is financially better but does not bring them the satisfaction of a craft. Anne Kellaway is distrustful of Londoners, the circus and the Astleys but she does seem to mellow by the end of the story, but it is the story of Jem and Maisie the two Kellaway children which are at the heart of the story.
How Maisie is seduced by the wily John Astley. A simple village girl she was ripe for the plucking and Jem has to cope with the wily way of Londoners who realize he is just a simpleton who can be taken for a ride. Maggie is the one who comes to their rescue on more than one occasion because Maggie realizes that there is an innocence in both the Kellaway youngsters which she feels must be safeguarded as they are unaware of their own gullibility. How Maggie risks her own family's wrath to do this is also part of the story.
The backdrop of a revolution pending in France - seemingly very remote to the hard life of a working class family - it also brings its effect to them all despite the feeling that it is something very far away. The Blake poetry of Innocence as against Experience is always a highlight of the story sometimes just as a nuance of a character and sometimes very much part of the story.
Though critics say the story is nothing much, I did enjoy this book very much both the story and the detailed descriptiveness of life in Britain at this period.
This book was a win from a Rebecca - thank you Rebecca