Monday, September 28, 2020

The Lost Orphan

Title:  The Lost Orphan
Author:  Stacey Halls
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2020. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0778309320 / 978-0778309321

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "All the babies were wrapped like presents ready to be given."

Favorite Quote:  "There was a pause. 'You are doing a fine job, madam. You're doing the very best you can.' They were not the same thing."

The Lost Orphan is the story of motherhood for the orphan in this book is truly neither an orphan nor lost at all. Two women become mothers, not of their own choosing.

Bess Bright is a shrimp seller, living with her father and the brother, who seems headed for trouble. She ends up pregnant after an encounter with a handsome strangers who makes her dream of a different life. She is poor, and her father forces her to places her child with the Foundling Hospital in London. She works and waits and saves and dreams of reclaiming her daughter one day. When that day comes, she finds her daughter gone.

Alexandra Callard is a widow raising her daughter alone. She has wealth and position in society. Tragedies in her past lead her to a scared, well-measured, restricted, and eccenctric life. She does not leave her home except for church on Sunday, and no one is allowed in either. The restrictions apply to all in the household, including Alexandra's daughter. The limitations seem to extend to Alexandra's ability to love her daughter. "How was it that the love for a child was the most complex of all? How could one feel envy, grief and rejection at the same time as simple, uncluttered affection? How was it that I could barely touch her, yet would know her smell blindfolded, and could draw every freckle on her face." The reasons behind her fear are revealed late into the book. 

Charlotte Callard is the six year old that binds these two women together. Why and how becomes clear early on in the book. 

The biggest issue I have with the book is that the story of the two women somehow does not ring true. What should be an emotional tale of motherhood leaves too many open questions and too many convenient coincidences for it to have the intended impact. For example:
  • How does a street smart Bess end up falling for a one-night stand and end up alone and pregnant?
  • Why does Alexandra bring Charlotte home?
  • How does Alexandra all of a sudden allow a caretaker for Charlotte to move into the house?
  • Why is Dr. Mead so willing to help Bess?
  • How does Bess end up in the right place at the right time and meet the right person?
  • How does such an abrupt and complete character change occur?
As the story progresses, so do the questions until the very end. The dramatic change in one character and the willingness to let go does not ring true given everything that has come before.

Part of this book explores the vast economic divide between the rich and the poor in 1700s London. That is the background of the book but actually, for me, becomes the interesting aspect of the book. I do walk away with a picture in my mind of the the time and place.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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