About the Book:
From the bestselling author of The Familiars, and set against the vibrant backdrop of Georgian London, The Foundling explores families, secrets, class, equality, power and the meaning of motherhood.
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 – 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.
Stacey Halls just might be my favourite historical novelist now. You can’t really make that call after one book, but now I’ve read her second and it’s as equally good as what her first was, so she can officially rank as a favourite now. For those who have read The Familiars, expect something different with this one – and isn’t that one of the best examples of literary talent: the ability to write each book different, to not write to formula, or stick to what worked for you before. The Foundling, like The Familiars before it, is historical fiction, but that’s where the similarities end.
‘My own daughter was inside, her fingers closing around thin air. My heart was wrapped in paper. I had known her hours, and all my life. The midwife had handed her to me, slick and bloodied, only this morning, but the Earth had turned full circle, and things would never be the same.’
The Foundling is a story of two women living lives as far removed from each other as possible. It’s a rather feminist story, which I appreciated greatly, and very atmospheric. Within each woman’s perspective, the reader was invited to step into their lives, be it gilded or impecunious, and to experience what day to day living might have been like for an 18th century woman living in London. Connected by a man and a child, these two women overcome much to eventually work together towards a mutual solution to their problem. In this, the novel really shines, as it depicts each woman assuming agency over her own life.
‘These feminine vessels we inhabited: why did nobody expect them to contain unfeminine feelings? Why could we, too, not be furious and scornful and entirely altered by grief? Why must we accept the cards we had been dealt?’
Alexandra was a complex character, not at all like what she appeared to be on the surface. She comes across as emotionally unresponsive, but she is stitched together with trauma, and as more and more details are revealed as the novel progresses, it becomes impossible to take her at face value. Bess was less complex, but driven by a mother’s love and fury at her circumstances costing her the ability to fulfil that role, and in this, she was a formidable character with much about her to be admired.
The Foundling Hospital within the novel is based upon a real place that existed within that time, but this novel is driven more by its characters than by historical events. Stacey Halls knows her craft though, and she has such a talent at creating mood and atmosphere, at conveying emotion through gesture as well as words. She is certainly an author who has earned her place as an historical novelist of note. Just as I raved about The Familiars last year, I will quite happily rave about The Foundling this year.
Thanks is extended to Allen & Unwin for providing me with a copy of The Foundling for review.
About the Author:
Stacey Halls grew up in Rossendale, Lancashire, as the daughter of market traders. She has always been fascinated by the Pendle witches. 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 written for Psychologies, the Independent and Fabulous magazine, where she now works as Deputy Chief Sub Editor.
Published by Zaffre
Released 4th February 2020
P.S. I didn’t think you could get a more gorgeous cover than The Familiars, but the publisher has outdone themselves again with The Foundling. With its silver embossing and plethora of details, all related to the story, this book is just beautiful, a book lovers dream! 10/10 once again for outstanding cover design.