Charity by Madeline Dewhurst
Published April 26th 2021
Publisher Lightning Books
Huge thanks to the publishers Lightning Books and to Simon for sending me this copy for review.
Edith, an elderly widow with a large house in an Islington garden square, needs a carer. Lauren, a nail technician born in the East End, needs somewhere to live. A rent-free room in lieu of pay seems the obvious solution, even though the pair have nothing in common.
Or do they? Why is Lauren so fascinated by Edith’s childhood in colonial Kenya? Is Paul, the handsome lodger in the basement, the honest broker he appears? And how does Charity, a Kenyan girl brutally tortured during the Mau Mau rebellion, fit into the equation?
Capturing the spirited interplay between two women divided by class, generation and a deeper gulf from the past, and offering vivid flashbacks to 1950s East Africa, Madeline Dewhurst’s captivating debut spins a web of secrets and deceit where it’s not always obvious who is the spider and who is the fly.
This debut novel from author Madeline Dewhurst centres around 1950’s East Africa and the conflict between the Mau Mau and the British authorities. A period in time I knew little about, is brought vividly, shockingly and with great skill to the readers attention. Moving back and forth between present day England and Kenya between 1947-1959 we follow Edith an elderly widow once married to a Captain Graham Forbes, who she met out in Kenya were she grew up. Now living in London, we are first introduced to her when she is interviewing for a live in carer and it is the interviewee, Lauren, who opens the story.
Beautician Lauren, currently staying with a friend, after being pushed out of home by her step-father and mother, takes up the job and moves into Edith’s house a week after the interview. A large house, it also has a tenant in the basement flat, Paul. The opening chapter, and indeed the synopsis on the back cover, gives an immediate impression that this take up of a new job isn’t as straight forward as one may expect.
With the chapters moving back and forth in time we learn of Edith’s childhood as a white European living in Kenya, her then young friend Mary and also of a young woman called Charity who is caught out in the town alone, having missed her bus back to school one evening. In present day Islington we read as Edith dreams of her old friend, struggles to get on with her daughter and learn more about Graham Forbes. But what is Lauren’s link to Edith and is she looking for more than just a rent free room?
I found myself totally immersed in this novel from very early on. The author writes with great skill and a wonderfully flowing style that is very readable. A great mix of characters are vividly brought to life with a seemingly effortless style and there is great dialogue between Edith and Lauren as they get to know each other. The author portrays the characters extremely well and is able to write extremely effectively whatever age, class or culture they are from. She switches between Edith and her struggles that her age bring her, Lauren and her vulnerability linked to her family and the horrors experienced by Charity in Kenya. It was however these local women in Kenya that drew me in the most and their story was at some points shocking to read. It is this bringing together of factual elements and fictional novel that make this an extremely original and engaging read and one that I would highly recommend.
Without giving away too much of the story or plot, this is a novel that looks at culpability and the complicit, and examines revenge, guilt, wealth, and generational differences. It is also a page turning, thrilleresque read with great characters which had me guessing right up to the very end! With a heart wrenching story at it’s centre this is one debut novel I strongly recommend you check out! It’s released Monday, April 26th.