The Trial of Lotta Rae by Siobhan MacGowan

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.

17 thoughts on “The Trial of Lotta Rae by Siobhan MacGowan

  1. margaret21 says:

    You’ve certainly piqued my interest in reading this, despite its difficult subject matter. It was only when you mentioned the supernatural element, which is a big turn-off for me that I faltered. But I’ll certainly look out for this book.

  2. Cyberkitten says:

    Sounds like an interesting if, at times, difficult read. I’ll look out for it. I do have an interest in the suffrage movement in England especially after reading ‘Suffragette – My Own Story’ by Emmeline Pankhurst which was an excellent eye-opener.

    • Helen says:

      I have to admit, I’ve read very little about the suffrage movement, except where it appears in novels like this one. I must read Emmeline Pankhurst’s book one day – I’m sure it’s fascinating!

      • Cyberkitten says:

        The Pankhurst book is excellent. Not only is it very well written its FULL of fascinating information that I had no idea about prior to reading it. I’d heard of the Suffragettes being labelled as terrorists before – but there was a wing of the movement that most definitely fitted that description. I think it could have become VERY nasty if WW1 had not intervened. There were some very determined women in that organisation!

  3. mallikabooks15 says:

    Sounds compelling and an emotional read despite the supernatural element coming in. I got some insights into the Pankhursr and the suffragettes from a nonfic I read last year (also a Richmal Crompton, if I remember right), so it will be interesting to see it through the eyes of Lotta.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, this book took me through a whole range of emotions! I would like to read some nonfiction about the suffragettes – I’ve only really read fictional accounts like this one.

      • mallikabooks15 says:

        The one I read was called Etta Lemon: The Woman Who Saved Birds, and has parallel accounts of the campaign to abolish the slaughter of birds for millinery, and alongside Emmeline Pankhurst and the suffragettes.

  4. Lark says:

    I can see why you found Lotta’s story both sad and infuriating. I wish the suffragette part had been as compelling as the first part of the book, but this one does sound good.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, it was a great book, apart from the few negative points I’ve mentioned in my review. I would like to read more about the suffragettes.

  5. Calmgrove says:

    I too would be uncomfortable with the supernatural element, already uncomfortable – but for different reasons – with the victim’s trauma and the sheet injustice of rape; but yet this sounds to be a powerful story that has to be told.

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