22 Britannia Road, the debut novel by this author, has been languishing on my wishlist for years, so I was delighted to win a Goodreads giveaway for Spilt Milk, Amanda Hodgkinson’s next novel.
Spilt Milk starts in 1913 with three sisters living in an isolated cottage next to the Little River in Suffolk, England. Rose the eldest has brought up her younger two sisters, Nellie and Vivian in impoverished conditions and her dearest wish is that the three of them lived together safe from the frightening stories she reads in the local gazette. Working on the nearby farm Rose and Nellie bring in the pennies while Vivian looks after the home and the days are tracked by the changing season. All goes well until one day the river floods, and a stranger arrives changing everything.
This is a really good example of a historical saga with plenty of secrets and an underlying theme of female relationships, in all their guises, covering a lengthy time span. The story continues to 1963 but fortunately the author has taken the judicious decision to move the story forward with the characters reflecting on the past as well as narrating the present. This device not only keeps the book length long enough to be fulfilling while avoiding the feeling that it has been unnecessarily padded, but also keeps the reading experience fresh with the change of tense and pace.
Although most of the characters are female the male characters are equally well presented while keeping the feeling of the time period authentic. I loved the way the book charted the changing times from those where women who ‘got into trouble’ were harshly judged by their peers to a softening of attitudes in the 1960’s. At the heart of this book is the relationship between sisters which includes the rivalry and the support they provide.
The author has managed to write a riveting story which is deeper than the premise might suggest, where secrets are revealed and hidden in equal measure, with some remaining a mystery to the protagonists to the very end. I now want to read 22 Britannia Road after this enjoyable read.