January 2019 Quercus Books
October 3rd 2019 Paperback
When Esther Thorel, the wife of a Huguenot silk-weaver, rescues Sara Kemp from a brothel she thinks she is doing God’s will. Sara is not convinced being a maid is better than being a whore, but the chance to escape her grasping ‘madam’ is too good to refuse.
Inside the Thorel’s tall house in Spitalfields, where the strange cadence of the looms fills the attic, the two women forge an uneasy relationship. The physical intimacies of washing and dressing belie the reality: Sara despises her mistress’s blindness to the hypocrisy of her household, while Esther is too wrapped up in her own secrets to see Sara as anything more than another charitable cause.
It is silk that has Esther so distracted. For years she has painted her own designs, dreaming that one day her husband will weave them into reality. When he laughs at the ambition, she strikes up a relationship with one of the journeymen weavers in her attic who teaches her to weave and unwittingly sets in motion events that will change the fate of the whole Thorel household.
Blackberry and Wild Rose is inspired by real characters and historical events. Esther Thorel is based on the fascinating story of master silk designer Anna Maria Garthwaite whose work can be seen in the V&A Museum and has been used in the design of the novel’s cover art. Blackberry and Wild Rose was short-listed for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize as a work in progress, was longlisted for the Mslexia novel competition, and is Sonia’s first novel.
An interesting piece of historical fiction set during a time period I know very little about. Blackberry and Wild Rose, set among the Huguenot silk weavers of Spitalfields in the late 18th century, is a book about women, Eleanor the wife of a silk master and Sara her maid, ‘rescued’ by Eleanor from a brothel.
I usually find historical fiction to be educational and informative and this book was no exception. With women at its heart this book highlights the role of women in society but also distinguishes between women of different social standing and the perceptions of women across the board. Eleanor as the wife of a master silk weaver clearly has many advantages but has many hurdles to climb to get her designs noticed, not least by her husband who dismisses her efforts and suggests she sticks to women’s work.
With some scandals along the way this book, after a slow start has lots to offer. Inspiring me to find out more about the real characters and events behind this book I am also left struck by the unfairness and inequality of life back then, for women and for the working classes, with the holders of the power, holding it very close to their chests. Life was hard and for Sara, Eleanor’s maid life was shocking, with limited choices and always seemingly indebted to someone, her story is sad and her options grim.
This book is told from the perspectives of both of these women, in the first person in alternating chapters. This offers an interesting insight into both women and how they perceive each other and themselves.
An engaging and insightful read which left me feeling I’d gained some knowledge through the reading experience. A piece of historical fiction told from the perspectives of two very different women, both determined to succeed in their own lives. A slow burner of a read, but one that is definitely worth sticking with as the pace picks up as the plot thickens and the scandals emerge! An impressive debut, rich in detail complemented by the beauty of the silk designs whose stories are being told.
About the Author
Sonia Velton grew up between the Bahamas and the UK. A qualified solicitor, Sonia relocated to the Middle East in 2006 to return eight years and three children later. She now lives in Kent.
Thank you to Ella at Quercus Books for sending me a copy of this book… and you could win a paperback copy, head on over to my Instagram Page to find out how, but be quick giveaway closes Friday 4th October at midday. @lovedreadingthis