In September 1870 a train leaves Manchester bound for London. On board is Lizzie Burns, a poor worker from the Irish slums, who is embarking on the journey that will change her forever. Sitting in the first-class carriage beside her lover, the wealthy mill-owner Frederick Engels, the vision of a life of peace and comfort takes shape before her eyes: finally, at nearly fifty, she is to be the lady of a house and the wife to a man. Perhaps now she can put the difficulties of the past behind her, and be happy?In Gavin McCrea s stunning debut novel, we follow Lizzie as the promise of an easy existence in the capital slips from her view, and as she gains, in its place, a profound understanding of herself and of the world. While Frederick and his friend Karl Marx try to spur revolution among the working classes, Lizzie is compelled to undertake a revolution of another kind: of the heart and the soul. Haunted by her first love (a revolutionary Irishman); burdened by a sense of duty to right past mistakes; and torn between a desire for independence and the pragmatic need to be taken care of, Lizzie learns, as she says, that the world doesn t happen how you think it will. The secret is to soften to it, and to take its blows.Wry, astute and often hilarious, Lizzie is as compelling and charismatic a figure as ever walked the streets of Victorian England, or its novels. In giving her renewed life, Gavin McCrea earns his place in the pantheon of great debut novelists.
Welcome to the BLOG TOUR for Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea which is published in hardback by Scribe on 1 May 2015.
At the beginning of Mrs Engels, Lizzie Brown gives a warning about men. This warning perfectly introduces the reader to the character of Lizzie. She has been wonderfully crafted by Gavin McCrea, she is sparky and witty and quite incredible.
Mrs Engels is a work of fiction but is based upon Lizzie Burns. Lizzie was Irish and illiterate and also the long-time lover of Frederick Engels; a leading figure who wrote The Communist Manifesto.
This is novel that took me completely by surprise. I took a gamble on it and it paid off handsomely.
Gavin McCrea has cleverly told this story in Lizzie's voice and has brought her to life so very well.
Lizzie and Frederick move to London to be closer to Karl Marx. For Lizzie, this really is a whole new world, far away from the cotton mills of Manchester. Lizzie is an observer and a quick learner and although she appears to adapt to this new world, she remains uncertain about money and wealth. She has strong memories of her first love, she is often confused by her own feelings but gains confidence as the story moves on.
Mrs Engels introduced me to a subject about which I knew nothing. McCrea makes the subject of Communism both fascinating and easily understood, his depiction of Marx and Engels is powerful.
Mrs Engels is really atmospheric, the reader is transported to the streets of London during the nineteenth century. Historical fiction has never been my favourite genre, but every so often I do stumble across a gem, and this is one of those. Lizzie Burns is a fabulous character, I adore her!
Extract from Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea
The Revolution has happened. In my parlour.
Chairs overturned. Empty bottles on the chimneypiece. Half-full glasses among the plants in the pots. Fag-ends in the necks of the lamps. The clod from someone’s pipe stuck onto Jenny’s horse painting, right where its bit ought be. And on the sofa, head to foot and snoring, their clothes screwed tight about them, morning wood standing up in their breeches: men I don’t recognise.
Another fancy evening for the comrades. Another night spent with cotton in my ears and a chair against the door. And now another day spent with yesterday’s smoke clogging up my bad lung?
Nay. There’s something wrong in this. I must get out. I must breathe the outside air, else I’ll be stuck here suffering in my heart the agonies of a caged animal till death and salvation overtake me.
I’ll talk to Frederick, is what I’ll do. Unload my mind on him. And by my tone he’ll know I’ve neither leisure nor energy for debate. I’ll say the house is a problem I want no more business with.
Give me a job, I’ll say. A proper purpose. I can no longer be happy living in a wife’s constraints. Put me to good use, send me out to do what I’m fit for. No matter how mean the task, I’ll perform it, as long as it brings me a distance from this place.
And there’s this to be said too: outside in the world I’ll keep a good spirit, and will weather the severe judgements my public actions will draw down on me, for, if there’s any justice, there’s another world with no politics biding for me above.