The Foundling by Stacey Halls
Each year 8 of us gather together in December for a meal at one of our favourite restaurants. The tradition started with 4 of us, and then our partners and husbands joined us. We enjoy the most amazing Christmas meal in the cosy setting. Think squidgy chairs and log fires. It is also an opportunity to exchange our secret Santa presents. This has become an important tradition for the 8 friends and last year, after dropping some seriously heavy hints, I received The Foundling by Stacey Halls. After reading the atmospheric The Familiars, I was keen to read more.
Plot (from the Back of the Book)
London 1754. 6 years after leaving her illegitimate daughter Clara at London's foundling hospital. Bess Bright returns to reclaim the child she has never known. Dreading the worst that Clara has died in care, Bess is astonished to be told she has already claimed her. Her life is turned upside down as she tries to find out who has taken her little girl and why.
The more I read by Stacey Halls, the more I come to love her writing. This is a gorgeous atmospheric Autumn read. Just like The Familiars, the book has a beautifully designed cover art that feels seasonal and tactile.
The story is fascinating and it is clear to see that Stacey Halls has done her research about the Foundling Hospital. It was so interesting to learn how children were selected for the Hospital. These were babies forced to be given up by their mothers who had carried them and loved them so dearly. These mothers were desperate to keen them safe. By placing them in the Foundling school, they would be guaranteed security, care and a career at the end as servants. I could almost feel a mother's desperation - devastated at having to give up her child that cannot keep, but wanting them to be well looked after.The novel also spoke of the grim repercussions should a child not be selected. It was raw and emotional.
In fact, there is something raw about the whole book. Bess is a marvellous character, strong and driven by her love for her child. She is watchful of everything around her, reminded of her place as a woman and by her class. I found Alexandra absolutely fascinating. Her story is gently learned as the book continues and through this we start to understand her motivations and demeanour more and more.
Just as with The Familiars, the atmosphere is as much a part of the book as the characters themselves. I could almost smell the stale air in the home of Alexandra, the unpleasant odour of the docks where Bess and her father work, and the family home, shared with Bess' drunken, feckless brother. It is powerful writing and Stacey Halls truly evokes the tapestry of life at that time.
I very much enjoyed this novel and am grateful to Santa (aka Phoebe!) for giving me this book. I can't wait for our meal this year!!!