It’s my stop on the blog tour for The Low Road by Katherine Quarmby. this read will sit with me for a while – surely the sign of great writing?
The book starts off in Norfolk in 1813. After her mother Mary Tyrell is staked through the heart after her death by suicide, Hannah is sent sent away to the Refuge for the Destitute in London. Here she is trained for a life of domestic service but all the while her past sits brooding inside her. She meets and falls in love with a fellow resident but from here things start to fall apart. Ultimately they both end up being transported to Botany Bay but are separated. We learn of their fates in Australia and how female transportees were treated there, for good and for bad.
It’s a brutal tale at times, tenderly told. Katherine has based this novel on the true story of Mary Tyrell and her research gives the writing wonderful depth. After the first few chapters I truly felt like I was the narrator – Hannah – as I was reading. I could feel her emotions and clung to every sentence hoping everything would turn out ok. The plot is excellent and the relationships bind the book together like the threads in my clothes. Katherine explores the ups and downs between friends and lovers, mothers and their children. And shares how young girls and women were tied to those who look after or imprison them. The dark horrors of Victorian England for women in particular were hard to read about. Rape is followed by motherhood, which is in turn followed by shame and babes being torn from the bosom to be given away. Choice and empathy is not an option. Women are imprisoned for pilfering when all they need is help. They are sent away from villages, refuges or even their own country because of the power of men, or for the weakest of crimes.
Yet throughout, friendship and love shines out, making it an uplifting and gripping read. It makes me thankful to be a women in modern times. We may not have fixed everything but we’ve certainly come a long way. Fans of historical fiction such as Marriage Portrait or Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell or older titles The Potato Factory by Bryce Courtenay will enjoy The Low Road.
Katharine Quarmby has written non-fiction, short stories and books for children. The Low Road is her first novel. Her non-fiction works include Scapegoat: Why We Are Failing Disabled People and No Place to Call Home: Inside the Real Lives of Gypsies and Travellers. She is also an investigative journalist and editor, with particular interests in disability, the environment, race and ethnicity, and the care system. Her reporting
has appeared in outlets including the Guardian, The Economist, The Atlantic, The Times, the Telegraph, New Statesman and The Spectator. Katharine lives in London.
Katharine’s family moved to Harleston, Norfolk, when she was seven. She still retains links with the area and she is a member of the local Historical Society. The book came about when Katharine and her family, all good walkers, discovered a new local walk which brought them across the tragic story of Mary Tyrell. Katharine researched the book whilst resident in Harleston making many visits to local archives and museums.
Blogger Hannah is the author of The Cactus Surgeon, a nature & health memoir. Living in London, Hannah suffered burnout and was diagnosed with a functional neurological disorder. With no information available to help her, she found her own way to get better.
Growing up in a garden centre, her childhood was full of nature and plants. This was in stark contrast to the concrete of the capital, where she became unwell. In searching for the answers to her illness, she wonders whether being torn from her pot and replanted in a more hostile environment was the reason her body started to malfunction. After seeking out alternative therapies, and moving to the countryside of North Essex, her ‘green recovery’ continued. It’s a book of mindful moments, savouring the small wonders of nature.