With Stacey Halls’ The Familiars still on my TBR and my review of her excellent Mrs England here, I was thrilled to find the U3A book group choice this month was another of her books, The Foundling as I’ve been meaning to read it since it was published. It’s a real pleasure to share my review of The Foundling today. I’m looking forward to hearing what the other book group members think too.
The Foundling was published by Bonnier imprint Manilla in 2020 and is available for purchase here.
Two women, bound by a child, and a secret that will change everything . . .
London, 1754. Six years after leaving her illegitimate daughter Clara at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to reclaim the child she has never known. Dreading the worst, that Clara has died in care, Bess is astonished to be told she has already claimed her. Her life is turned upside down as she tries to find out who has taken her little girl – and why.
Less than a mile from Bess’s lodgings in the city, in a quiet, gloomy townhouse on the edge of London, a young widow has not left the house in a decade. When her close friend – an ambitious young doctor at the Foundling Hospital – persuades her to hire a nursemaid for her daughter, she is hesitant to welcome someone new into her home and her life. But her past is threatening to catch up with her and tear her carefully constructed world apart.
From the bestselling author of The Familiars comes this captivating story of mothers and daughters, class and power, and love against the greatest of odds . . .
My Review of The Foundling
Bess has given up her day old baby Clara to the the Foundling Hospital.
The Foundling is a fabulous book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. What Stacey Halls does so well is to conjure her era and setting with such skill that it never interferes with the narrative, but enhances it so smoothly that the reader is entranced and swept along in the events. I thought the depiction of London in the late 1700s and the contrast of Bess and Alexandra’s lives and homes gave an atmosphere that was perfect, with the senses fully involved so that the sights, sounds and smells of London permeate the story. This is a book that has been meticulously researched so that reading it makes the reader somehow feel confident that it is authentic and accurate, enhancing the considerable enjoyment of reading it.
The plot of The Foundling races along, giving superb insight into the historical setting. There’s no sentimentality here, but instead a razor sharp understanding that wealth and power do not buy love and contentment. The actions of Ned belie the saccharine working class honesty sometimes presented in historical fiction so that he, as are all the minor characters, is realistic, vivid and believable. Even Daniel, who isn’t physically present in the story feels absolutely essential to its success as a novel. I finished the book feeling confused by my reaction to Daniel, unsure if I could forgive him his infidelities and the consequences of his actions. This added to my enjoyment in reading further as I love a book that makes me think and remains with me after I’ve finished it.
Whilst Clara is a highly effective catalyst for the action, and for whom I felt a surprisingly profound concern, given how little I really like children, it is Bess and Alexandra who are so compelling in The Foundling. Stacey Halls weaves herstory into history with incredible aplomb. It felt natural to lean towards Bess and like her the most, especially when life contrives against her, but Alexandra gradually penetrates the reader’s defences so that I ended the book feeling she deserved my pity and respect rather than initial dislike. Her brittle personality, her fragile and yet simultaneously strong mental state make her fascinating. More than any other character, and despite her privileged position, she is a victim of circumstance and the events of her past.
I loved the themes of The Foundling. The exploration of motherhood and family alongside themes of betrayal, fear, mental health, society, social class and love make The Foundling multi-layered and immensely satisfying to read. I found myself completely captivated by the excellent story-telling. It might be the story of Clara, Bess and Alexandra that entertains the reader, but the backdrop of 1700s London life flows behind the narrative as effectively as the Thames against which so much of the action takes place so that The Foundling is a rich, rewarding book.
I loved The Foundling. I thought it was atmospheric, touching and brilliantly entertaining and I really recommend it.
About Stacey Halls
Stacey Halls was born in 1989 and grew up in Rossendale, Lancashire. She studied journalism at the University of Central Lancashire and has written for publications including the Guardian, Stylist, Psychologies, the Independent, the Sun and Fabulous. Her first book, The Familiars, was the bestselling debut hardback novel of 2019, won a Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the British Book Awards’ Debut Book of the Year. Stacey Halls is available for interview, to write features and events. Stacey lived in Hebden bridge where the book is set while writing Mrs England and has done extensive research include at the Norland Nanny school in Bath. Key themes include ‘gaslighting; women & power and the fetishisation of nannies.
For more information about Stacy, visit her website. You can follow Stacy on Twitter @stacey_halls, and find her on Instagram too.