“I find masks dangerous things. They conceal. Concealment is a very dishonest thing, don’t you agree? Why might a person hide who they are, unless they were up to no good?”
I think I’ve found a favourite author here, I say with trepidation. I hope I haven’t jinxed it. I was truly enchanted with Stacey Halls debut The Familiars, and I’m still captivated with The Foundling days after finishing it.
I can’t quite find the words to explain how alluring Halls writing is. It’s like a beckoning hand, the wisp of an aroma you have to follow, the appeal of a hot drink on a cold winter night. It’s got an irresistible draw that only increases the more the story unfolds.
The Foundling is a historical fiction mystery that tells a tale of motherhood, class, love and deception. The story alternates between Bess Bright, a poor shrimp girl who’s life prospects are bleak, and Alexandra Callard, a shut-in widow who is more comfortable financially. Both women’s lives collide when Bess notices Alexandra’s six year old daughter and believes she’s the baby she gave up to The Foundling hospital years ago.
When I started thinking about my review, I was stuck on where to begin with these two women. They are strong yet each have their vulnerabilities and flaws. Through these women a multitude is explored; I was particularly taken with Halls contrasting poverty through Bess and Alexandra’s circumstances, and how that would impact the upbringing of children.
Bess is sweet and resourceful yet she’s reckless, whilst Alexandra is sharp and loyal yet mistrusting. It is astounding how I cared for or resented both Bess and Alexandra, to the point where I didn’t want either to lose. This was not only stressful, but it demonstrates how well Halls balanced connecting the reader to each woman.
The mystery elements of the book were masterfully done. Halls utilised structure in a very clever way to deliver an enticing slow burn mystery. The questions about what happened and what was going to happen kept growing and growing, until the climax suddenly arrived, and it was truly unputdownable. I particularly like how when I look back on it all – now knowing everything – I can see it all connecting clear as day.
Adding to the momentum of the mystery, the setting of the book, the Georgian period, was striking and provided atmosphere. I could see fishermen and crowded markets, decrepit housing and dirty conditions, foggy nights and lamplighters, high cast iron gates and high class fashion. It was very atmospheric and definitely transported me back in time.
I’d very, very much like someone to adapt this into a mini series for TV at Christmas time. The opening chapter seized my heart and almost brought me to tears, and I was so invested in the ending it was like someone had a hold of my heart and was squeezing it tightly. I flew through this book and loved it just as much as The Familiars, and I’m now eagerly *major stress on eagerly* awaiting Halls next book, Mrs England (out June 2021).