It’s an absolute pleasure to be sharing my review of The Ferryman’s Daughter by Juliet Greenwood on publication day: published by Orion, it’s now available in paperback, as an e-book and as an audiobook. My thanks to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy, provided via netgalley.
I do suspect that there may be some who’ll be reading one of Juliet’s books for the first time when they pick up this book. But no, not me – on my bookshelves I still have a copy of her first full-length novel, Elissa’s Castle, published by Transita (anyone remember them?) way back in 2005 (and sadly no longer available). I remember very fondly Eden’s Garden too – published by Honno Press, and enjoyed back in 2008. Forward to 2014, and We That Are Left – you’ll find my review here – and I can still remember every detail, and how very much I enjoyed it. And then came the most special read of all – The White Camellia (review here), that entirely deserved its place on my Books of the Year list in 2016.
Although I’m a massive fan of Honno Press, Juliet has always really deserved to reach a wider readership – and when I heard she’d signed with Orion, she might just have heard my cheer over in Snowdonia. And then I had the real joy of finally meeting her (and her wonderful four-legged companion, Miss Phoebe) at the Narberth Book Festival last year – and to find that she’s every bit as lovely as her books.
So let’s take a look at her latest…
Can Hester help her family escape desperate poverty and fulfil her dreams?
1908: Hester always loved her mother best, her father had always been a hard man to like, spending more time (and money) in the local than with his family. After her mother’s sudden death, followed by an injury forcing her father to give up his job as the ferryman, Hester is placed in the position of care-giver for her young brother and sister.
As the years pass Hester must row the ferry night and day to keep them all from starvation, while her hopes of working in a kitchen and one day becoming a cook, slip further and further away.
But just how far is Hester willing to go to make her dream a reality? And as the threat of war comes ever closer to the Cornish coast, will it bring opportunities or despair for Hester and her family?
Isn’t it wonderful when a book turns out to be exactly what you hope it might be? My reading choices, since lockdown began, have mainly been romantic comedies – and that’s where I tend to turn when looking for comfort and escape. But I was rather looking forward to something totally different, the best of storytelling with a historical context, strong characters I could believe in, some trials and tribulations… and as I sank into the pages, entirely swept away by this wonderful story, experiencing every twist and turn in Hester’s life, I soon realised that I might have found the most perfect escape of all.
Hester Pearce is a strong woman so perfectly drawn: you feel at your core every single moment of her life experience, aching for her as she shows such exceptional courage in the face of every new challenge. At first, it’s making ends meet against impossible odds, holding the family together after the loss of her mother, ensuring that there’s food on the table and enough money to pay the rent collector to keep a roof over their heads. Her father would happily spend every penny at the Fisherman’s Arms after his days working as a ferryman: she becomes adept at concealing any spare cash she can, raised from the sale of preserves made from fruit she forages from the deserted walled garden at Afalon, the nearby mansion and estate. It’s already a hand-to-mouth existence, but when her father has a serious accident that stops him working, Hester takes his place, rowing passengers across the estuary in all weathers – an incredibly demanding job for a young woman, and her effort and the hardship she endures entirely exhaust you as you read.
At the beginning, the main focus is on family, on relationships, on duty and obligation, on survival – with Hester’s hope of not living her whole life in the shadows, of achieving her dream and being able to make her own choices, looking increasingly impossible. But the war is coming, and with it the possibility of a change of fortune: the impossible dream begins to shimmer once more, but so does the threat to any possibility of future happiness, and Afalon may not be quite the place of safety it might seem.
And that’s as far as I’m going to go in telling the story – the author really does it very much better, and the writing and story-telling is so very, very good: the whole book is a thoroughly gripping and emotional read, filled with so many heart-stopping moments. The Cornish setting is really wonderfully drawn, as are the day-to-day lives of the people, the acts of kindness and cruelty, the yawning gulf between those who have so little and the tantalising glimpses into the lives of those who have so much more. Every character, no matter how peripheral, is entirely three-dimensional, alive on the page – and the villain of the piece really is a particularly sinister and threatening creation.
The depth of research that must have gone into this book is clearly evident, and there’s a wonderful richness in the detail – I found the focus on the production of food particularly fascinating, but also enjoyed the insights into the impact of the war on the small rural community, and the harsh realities of life for those who return.
This was a superb read, and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment – I really didn’t want to leave the world the author created behind, or the exceptional woman whose life I’d felt privileged to share. Just wonderful – worth every moment of the wait, and so highly recommended.
About the author
Juliet Greenwood has always been a bookworm and a storyteller, writing her first novel (a sweeping historical epic) at the age of ten. She is fascinated both by her Celtic heritage and the history of the women in her family. Her great-grandmother was a nail-maker in Lye, in the Black Country, and her grandmother worked as a cook in a large country house.
After graduating in English from Lancaster University and Kings College, London, Juliet had a variety of jobs to support her ambition to be a full-time writer. These ranged from running a craft stall at Covent Garden to workshops in story-telling, along with spells of teaching and charity fundraising, and more recently as a freelance editor and proofreader.
Juliet has previously written stories and serials for magazines, as well as three historical novels, two of which reached the top #5 in the UK kindle store.
Juliet now lives in a traditional quarryman’s cottage between the mountains and the sea in beautiful Snowdonia, and is to be found dog walking in all weathers, always with a camera to hand…