Sometimes the books that are the most difficult to read are also the most compelling. This was one of those books; although I was horrified by what I was reading, I was so engrossed in the story I didn’t want to put it down.
Charlotte Rae – known to her family and friends as Lotta – is an ordinary young woman working in the office of a London brewery in the early 1900s. After an argument with her boyfriend at the brewery Halloween party, Lotta wanders outside for some fresh air, where she is approached by an older man, Henry Allen Griffiths. Pretending that he has come to comfort her, Griffiths takes her arm, leads her down a secluded street and then rapes her. With the support of her parents, who report the crime to the police, Lotta decides to testify against her attacker in court. She has faith in the justice system and is sure her lawyer, William Linden, will do his best to defend her.
Once the trial is over and a verdict has been reached, Lotta tries to move on with her life, joining the Suffragette movement and working towards fairness and equality for women. Then she makes the unpleasant discovery that William Linden had betrayed her during the trial and her world falls apart again. Unable to forgive William for what he has done, Lotta begins to search for a way to take her revenge.
Although Lotta Rae, as far as I can tell, is a fictitious character, the description of her trial seemed so real I was convinced it must have been a true story! I have rarely felt so angry and frustrated when reading a novel as I did here; all the odds are stacked against Lotta from the beginning and some of the developments in court are disgusting and shocking to read about, even if not entirely surprising. During and after the trial things go from bad to worse for poor Lotta and her story is truly heartbreaking.
I found the second half of the book slightly weaker than the first, which is understandable after such a powerful opening. It does provide some fascinating insights into the suffragette movement, particularly as we see this partly through the involvement of William Linden’s son, Raff, one of a group of men actively campaigning for women’s suffrage. Lotta’s feelings for Raff are complicated because she loves him for the person he is, but hates the fact that he is the son of her corrupt lawyer, and this adds another interesting angle to the story.
There’s a supernatural element that feels a bit out of place and I wished the story could have ended in a different way, but otherwise I loved this book, despite it being so sad and infuriating! I wasn’t aware until after I’d finished the book that Siobhan MacGowan is the sister of Shane MacGowan from The Pogues, as well as a successful journalist and musician in her own right. This is her first novel and I hope she’ll be writing more.
This is book 32/50 read for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022.