Set in suffragette London. Lotta Rae is a working-class 15-year-old, raped by a wealthy gentleman, who makes the brave decision to testify in court. William Lindon is a barrister about to lose everything. Both have decisions to make that will change the course of their lives and the lives of everyone around them for generations to come.

Atmospheric historical novel set in 20th-century Suffragette London interweaving fact and fiction from a compelling new voice.

Lotta Rae is a young working-class woman who is viciously attacked by a wealthy gentleman. Lotta’s family are firm believers in justice, so Lotta makes the brave decision to testify in court against her attacker. The guardians of justice support her, or so it seems.

William Linden is a barrister about to lose everything. He is failing to live up to his father’s formidable reputation and if he loses one more case, how will he house, clothe and feed his wife and young son?

Both Lotta and William have decisions to make that will change the course of their lives and the lives of everyone around them for generations to come.

Notorious after her trial and unable to return to the life she had before her attack, Lotta’s quest for her own form of justice takes her from the streets of Spitalfields to a Soho brothel, into the heart of the Suffragette movement, to an unimaginable place. One she could never have foreseen.

My Review

Working class 15-year-old Lotta Rae, having been brutally attacked and assaulted by a man of high standing, an investor at the company where she works, is persuaded to have him prosecuted for rape. In fact it’s her father, Pap, who reports the crime and so the divide between rich and poor becomes obvious.

Because when Lotta is defended by barrister William Linden, little does she know that those in power will simply throw her to the wolves. ‘Evidence’ comes to light that she is not a virgin, so her accusation of rape is dismissed, because she is obviously ‘a woman of ill-repute’ and her attacker walks free, HIS reputation intact. That’s how it was – and I don’t think much changed for many many years, a woman’s sexual history playing against her in court.

Lotta also doesn’t know initially that Linden was told to lose the case or his failing career would be over. Putting his own family first, he uses his wily ways to get Lotta to trust him, drawing her into his web of deceit. The stress and shame of the court case results in Pap taking the law into his own hands and so a series of tragedies begin.

Oh Lotta! How much sadder could your life become? I loved this book, but some mornings I would wake and dread reading the next stave (we read in 10 staves with The Pigeonhole) thinking ‘can things get any worse for her?’ And they did, till by the end I was in floods of tears, but not just for Lotta.

But don’t be put off. Siobhan MacGowan is a poet as well as a novelist, her use of language so lyrical and beautiful that I almost couldn’t bear it at times. And the historical details about World War One and the suffragette movement added to my appreciation of this wonderful, heartfelt read. A true masterpiece.

But in times to come it will be this part that I remember the most vividly. Shortly after another tragedy which I can’t mention because of spoilers, Lotta visits a spiritualist in Camden.

‘…I can see much suffering in your life. You have lost someone dear, perhaps more than one,’ she says. ‘And I see trouble there…perhaps one who….has wronged you greatly.’

‘Perhaps you are finding it hard to forgive….perhaps it is in forgiveness that your suffering will ease.’

‘Forgiveness is not about pardoning the other person their wrongdoings….It is not about forgiving but forgoing. Letting go. In that acceptance you are released. You can banish the wrongdoer from your life, for it is not they but your own feelings of hatred and resentment that keeps you bound to them.’

There is a lot more of what she tells Lotta which tore at my heart. She was so right. But so difficult to believe in and follow the advice.

Many thanks to The Pigeonhole, the author and my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.

About the Author

Siobhan MacGowan is a journalist and musician who lived and worked in London for much of her life before returning to Ireland several years ago. She is from a family of great storytellers, the most prominent of which is her brother, Shane MacGowan of The Pogues.

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