I was sent The Quietness by Alison Rattle in exchange for an honest review as part of the Amazon Vine programme.
The Quietness is published by Hot Key, an imprint specialising in teen/YA literature, and this definitely falls into the teen end of the children’s reading spectrum. I would recommend it to girls aged 14 and up. It is not really suitable for boys, given that it features a very female centric world and deals with the lot of the Victorian woman in particular.
I had hoped, on reading the synopsis to be able to add this to our primary school library, as it read like a more girl oriented version of Jamila Gavin’s Coram Boy. Both books deal, in a historical context, with the issue of unwanted babies and baby farming. Coram Boy is a book that sometimes crops up in the higher levels of KS2 learning, but this book would not be suitable.
The book has two narrators, telling the entwined stories of Queenie, a young girl from the slums of London’s East End, living in one room with her parents, scraping a living selling fruit and veg when they can get it cheap enough, always having more mouths to feed as her mother is endlessly pregnant, and Ellen, a rich but unhappy girl from a well to do family.
Queenie’s dad goes on a bender after the youngest baby dies, leaving Queenie’s already pregnant mother to provide for her children. Forced into prostitution she upsets Queenie with her lack of pride, and her willingness to do anything to make money – and so little money. Queenie is desperate for a better life, and answers an advert in the newspaper to help a mysterious woman and her friend look after unwanted babies. The money is good, and Queenie soon leaves her old life behind.
Meanwhile, Ellen is living in a house without love, with a creepy anatomist father and a mother who prefers caged birds to her own daughter. When a young man, the Ellen’s cousin, is brought to live in the house after the death of his mother, Ellen finds what she thinks is love, with disastrous consequences, and it isn’t long before Queenie and Ellen’s paths cross.
This book pulls no punches. It depicts violence and rape. It discusses abortion. It describes child birth and death. It does not shy away from, or dress in niceties the world the author describes, which is why it is unsuitable for younger readers.
Having said that, I thought that the story was very well told. None of the details were gratuitous and everything added to the seriousness and drama of a story that is beautifully narrated by strong and believable characters. I like the fact that it does not make overt judgements of the morality of the subject, rather relying on the author’s deft descriptions of life for these women to show you how decisions were made at the time and what can drive some people to do what they do.
I really enjoyed this debut novel by Alison Rattle and will be really interested to see what she writes next.