‘My story starts and ends at railway stations, though of course I can’t know this
yet as I clamber off the boat-train at Victoria that warm May afternoon… ‘
Annie is only six when her mother dies. Soon her strict religious father recruits Agnes as a housekeeper from the Mission their family founded, and Agnes becomes his second wife. As her stepmother’s iron grip on her life tightens, Annie’s resistance incurs increasingly harsh punishments. But Annie finds solace in the friendship of her young Sunday school teacher, Millie Blessing, until one day Millie mysteriously disappears…
Six years later, 18-year-old Annie returns from studying in France to discover her beloved brother Fred in a mental hospital. Here she also finds Millie Blessing, who has been held in a locked ward since her disappearance. Annie starts to volunteer at the hospital and with the help of her own childhood diary, she gradually unearths a secret that threatens to ruin them all…
Set in the 1930’s, this novel explores the dark space between public and private morality and charts the journey of brave formidable Annie Lang who dissents from her parents’ path to right the wrongs hidden in the heart of her own family.
I love historical books with a strong sense of research and history underpinning the narrative and because of this, I was thrilled to be invited to take part in this blog tour. I love the fact that Ros Franey felt drawn into writing this novel from staring at a house and wondering about the history behind the front doorstep. I’ve done this so many times and it made me feel a real bond with her as a writer. I feel honoured to close the tour for this book and I hope that you will check out the other fab bloggers on the tour that you might have missed this week!
Annie Lang was a fantastic character to travel in time through this novel with. She is right there at your side as the narrative unfolds and we see times changing as we follow the story of her very eventful life. Annie’s life is one of arrivals and departures so it is quite fitting that it begins and ends in railway stations. I loved this aspect of Annie Laing as my Saturday job at school was at the local steam railway and this book took me right back there and I could almost smell the hot metal and hear the doors slamming before the trains set off.
The section of the book where we are taken back to Annie’s strict religious upbringing in the 1920s was superbly written and really brought this restrictive and blinkered worldview to life. Seeing adult hypocrisies and double standards from a child’s perspective really throws these ideas into relief and Annie’s fresh voice definitely makes you feel like you can feel her misunderstandings and lack of answers that make any sense to her. The Mission is a closed order where questions about disappearing mothers are not to be tolerated and young Annie is soon pigeonholed as a ‘dissenter’ whose lack of mute obedience will need to be knocked out of her – at the soonest possible opportunity.
I don’t like spoilers so I don’t want to spill too much about the secret at the heart of this story. After returning from France, 16-year-old Annie ‘s discovery sets the wheels in motion for her to work her way backwards through her life in order to unravel the truth that has been hidden from her over the last decade. You will see things in the novel that young Annie doesn’t understand and is blinded to, which I feel strengthens our relationship with her as readers – I loved the fact that we are able to read young Annie’s journals after losing her mother and this gives you a real insight into the changes that happen in her young life as well as her thoughts and feelings as she responds to them.
I think the fact that Ros Franey makes documentaries really made this novel come to life for me – the research never threatens to overwhelm the narrative but it’s wonderfully clear to see. My grandmother Annie was in service during the 30s and it felt wonderful to explore the period she’d have been growing up in alongside such a fascinating and rebellious character as Annie. The fact that they shared a name added a little something extra to this novel for me and made me feel very connected with her and her family history too.
Ros Franey can definitely write – Annie’s voice is deftly conjured and the characters spring to life right off the page. I felt myself right there at several points in this novel – with her naughty dog, Nana or admiring Miss Blessing’s delightful blue shoes and grew to love Annie’s individual and surprisingly modern sensibilities in a world where it’s much easier if young women are seen rather than heard. I loved this book and I think that you will definitely love Annie just as much as I did. Treat yourself to a copy here
Thanks to Anne Cater & Muswell Press for inviting me on the tour; I thoroughly involved my visit to Annie’s world and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys something a little bit different and loves social history – if you loved Call the Midwife, you’ll be intrigued into this insight into domestic life in period Nottingham and how people used to live.
Writer on the Shelf
Ros Franey grew up in Nottingham where this book is set. She is a maker of award-winning documentaries, including two films about the Guildford 4 which, along with the book she co-authored Timebomb, contributed to the quashing of their case. This is her second novel. She lives in Camden, North London.