10 June 2021
My thanks to the publisher for my copy of this book
When newly graduated nurse Ruby May takes a position looking after the children of Charles and Lilian England, a wealthy couple from a powerful dynasty of mill owners, she hopes it will be the fresh start she needs. But as she adapts to life at the isolated Hardcastle House, it becomes clear there's something not quite right about the beautiful, mysterious Mrs England. Ostracised by the servants and feeling increasingly uneasy, Ruby is forced to confront her own demons in order to prevent history from repeating itself. After all, there's no such thing as the perfect family - and she should know.
Simmering with slow-burning menace, Mrs England is a portrait of an Edwardian marriage, weaving an enthralling story of men and women, power and control, courage, truth and the very darkest deception.
I've been excited to read Mrs England ever since I heard the first rumblings of interest about the book on social media about six months ago. It's always fascinating when there's bit of a buzz around a story, Stacey Halls first two historical fiction novels have done extremely well, so it was with a high degree of expectation I began to read Mrs England.
Its setting amongst the dark satanic mills of Yorkshire allows the brooding nature of the story to exude from the very first time Ruby May sets foot from the carriage which has carried her from the railway station to her new home. Nurse May, as she is known, is newly employed by wealthy mill owner, Mr Charles England to care for their four young children, and with his wife, Lilian being somewhat fragile in mind and body, Nurse May is left to look after the children with all the expertise that her Norland Nanny training allows.
That there are festering secrets at Hardcastle House becomes apparent as the story progresses and it is with a sense of disquiet that these secrets are gradually revealed. Lilian England is an enigmatic creature, prone to bouts of moodiness and depression, whilst the ebullient, Charles Hardcastle's larger than life personality seems to linger even when he's not present on the page. I rather liked Nurse May, but she too has secrets she would rather not be exposed to scrutiny and it is all these hidden and rather shadowy tensions which make Mrs England such a fascinating story.
Beautifully reminiscent of the confines of Edwardian England and not just for the working people whose lives were governed by hardship and toil, but also for the upper classes whose luxurious lifestyles often disguised traces of misery, manipulation and control. Mrs England once again proves just what a talent the historical fiction genre have found with Stacey Halls, as with each successive story, she just gets better and better.
Stacey Halls grew up in Rossendale, Lancashire, as the daughter of market traders. She has always been fascinated by the Pendle witches. She studied journalism at the University of Central Lancashire and moved to London aged 21. She was media editor at The Bookseller and books editor at Stylist.co.uk, and has also written for Psychologies, the Independent and Fabulous magazine, where she now works as Deputy Chief Sub Editor.
Twitter @stacey_halls #MrsEngland