Netherwood: A Novel
Coal mining provided a handsome living for a few patrician mine owners and a marginal living for a large number of laborers and their families in Yorkshire, at the end of the 19th century. Jane Sanderson drew upon extensive research and her own family history to create this vivid chronicle of the lifestyles at both ends of the social scale.
Eve Williams, married to a miner, can’t afford a rug for her icy bedroom floor. Lady Netherwood, whose husband owns several mines, commissions a pastry chef to create tiny spun sugar baskets holding chocolate dipped strawberries: one of several desserts at a banquet.
Sanderson’s descriptions are sensual and beautifully detailed. The reader accompanies the miners as they plummet down the deep shaft and trudge miles along dim tunnels, smelling and tasting the dust-laden air, hearing the creaks of the sagging beams.
When Eve’s husband is killed in a cave-in, she has to find a way to support herself and her three children. Career options for women in that era were few, with marriage at the top of the list. Eve manages to parlay her cooking ability into a flourishing small business.
This is a satisfying read, in large part because it is romantic and the good people are rewarded. Some of this is a trifle implausible but this is a lively, colorful, informed, fun read.
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