What I’m reading: Enthralling saga in the Thomas Hardy tradition



Katie Hutton’s trilogy of Cumbrian family sagas becomes a quartet and advances to the 1930s. Annie of Ainsworth’s Mill is now Annie McClure. She and her husband Robert run a foster home for children who would previously been consigned to the workhouse. Her latest protegee, Molly Dubber, follows other orphaned girls into domestic service, initially with a dotty old spinster who is being drugged into near-unconsciousness by her malevolent companion.

Molly’s next posting is to Lindal Hall, the mansion home of Mr Gascarth, a kind and decent man who has nightmares about the trenches in the Somme. Recognizing Molly’s intelligence, he advances her education to improve her prospects. He also falls in love with Molly, who is torn between her employer and another young veteran, her foster-mother’s stepson, blinded in France and now making a precarious living as a piano-tuner. And Molly has yet to learn the truth about the terrible event that orphaned her into the care of the McClures.

In a lesser writer’s hands this could be a sloppy romance from the Barbara Cartland school. Katie Hutton has been influenced by writers of a greater calibre. As in her previous sagas, Elizabeth Gaskell and Thomas Hardy come to mind. Although Molly Dubber is cut from a different cloth than Far From the Madding Crowd‘s Bathsheba Everdene, her romantic dilemma is a similar one, and it’s easy to see elements of Mr Boldwood and Gabriel Oak in her two admirers (a Captain Troy figure has only a fleeting role). If Gaskell and Hardy have inspired Katie Hutton, she does them proud. The Maid of Lindal Hall is an enthralling story, beautifully told.

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