Publisher:Harper Collins UK, 2014
For Pete’s sake – all I have to do for a review is read the book. That’s what I do.
But Daisy Waugh’s clever intertwining snippets of history among her fiction had me in a non-fiction fanaticism – reading parallel research of the actual events and characters and following the interplay between fact and her fiction with fascination.
Of course I fully read the book before hitting the Internet – and then I read it again. And again. Four times in all, so fascinated was I both by the plot, and Waugh’s craft of building an historical event into a fictional tale. Her inclusion of historical realia (‘The Nice People of Trinidad’ as written by Max Eastman and published in The Masses, July 1914) hits home the significance of the events in the period in which the novel is set.
She brings together a seemingly disparate group of people (Dora the hooker, Max Eastman the journalist, Inez the näive librarian and Xavier her homosexual brother, and Laurence the double-dealing mercenary) and lets us follow their social and sexual interplay as they deal with the famed Ludlow massacre in Colorado.
It is against this factual background that Waugh’s characters play out their parts; Dora (herself in near slavery to the madam, Phoebe) meets and makes an unlikely but lasting friendship with Inez, who bursts with often short-lived enthusiasm for schemes to “improve” someone’s lot in life – Dora’s, the mother of a young union clerk, the miners and Unionists. Her schemes bubble to nothing, her mind is a-bulge with fantasised versions of reality, she is both duplicitous and gullible. Her enthusiasm sweeps her into romance, misadventure, foolishness – and all the while Dora, her brother, and her potential mentor try to keep up with Inez’s version of reality.
Twenty-odd years later, these three meet again in California, with the chance to finally deliver to Max Inez’s final letter, the content of which Dora and Xavier have for years believed they knew. In a delightfully crafted twist, the letter reveals more information than any need to know.
This, my first encounter with WAUGH’s work, most certainly will not be my last. A diamond among the dross of historical fiction.
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(For those of you not yet familiar with US history of late 1800-early 1900s–some background:
Trade Unions were unwelcome in industry – any industry – which used back-breaking, soul-breaking labour to produce wealth for the investor. Workers in many industries – including the coal mining of Colorado – were so near to being enslaved by their employers as to never mind the difference. Housed meanly, forced to pay for provisions from the company stores at inflated prices, no schooling, medical treatment available at exorbitant prices only while the miner of the family was fit enough to mine, and if not all thrown out without redress.
The socialism movement aim was to create trade unions, as the only channel through which employment conditions and wages were to be negotiated, setting minimum wage and safety conditions among other factors. Leading figureheads travelled America, speaking in industry towns to encourage the workers to strike until better conditions were achieved and or trade unionism was permitted. Popular among the workers, these speakers were regarded by the companies as sedition in the making, and the companies brought in not only “scab” workers to continue production but also armed private armies (detective or security agencies, or simply eager firearms handlers) to both protect the scabs from the strikers but to also make pre-emptive attacks on the strikers’ rough camps to force them back onto near-slavery.)
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- ISBN: 9780007543861
- ISBN 10: 0007543867
- Imprint: Harper Collins
- On Sale: 20/11/2014
- Format: Audiobook
- Pages: 689
- List Prices:
- PaperBack £7.99; from HarperCollins, and from Amazon
- eBook £3.99 from Harper Collins
- AudioBook £13.99; from your usual AudioBook outlets
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Thank you – Lynne.