BY STACEY HALLS
Step back in time to Georgian England in this atmospheric page-turning historical fiction about a young girl’s search for her missing daughter in the city of London.
Bess Bright lives with her father and elder brother in cramped accommodation in the shadow of Fleet Prison. Together they work in the busy Billingsgate fish market selling fresh shrimp from quays around Ludgate Hill and St Paul’s. The story begins as Bess, still a teenager, has gone with her father to drop off her new born illegitimate daughter at The Foundling Hospital. The Foundling Hospital was set up to give a home to babies whose parents were unable to look after them, usually because of poverty, with the idea if their circumstances changed, they could return and collect their child. This rarely happened, but the mother would leave a personal token and be given a record of their child. Six years later, having set aside a few savings, Bess goes to collect her daughter from the hospital only to discover that she has already been claimed within a day of her arrival by someone claiming to be the mother. l
Bess cannot read or write, but she is sharp and determined. With the help of Doctor Mead who works as a physician at the hospital, she sets out to find her daughter and bring her home. This path leads her to experience the other side of Georgian London where we discover more about Clara’s father and meet Alexandra, a forceful young widow who has not left the house for 10 years.
Stacey Halls vividly brings the past to life, and we get a wonderful glimpse of the contrasting lives of poverty and wealth within London society during this period through the eyes of two strong women. Halls allows us to sympathise with all her characters through her wonderful storytelling and effortlessly transports the reader to 18th century London. 'The Foundling' reveals the traps of poverty, class and the struggles for women, particularly the helplessness of unmarried girls who became pregnant during this time. It also shows the power of a mother’s love and the tenacity required to bring up children in poverty.
If your book club is in the mood for a fast-paced, engaging read which is both enjoyable and gripping, this is a great choice.