Thursday 18 April 2024

The Household by Stacey Halls #TheHousehold @stacey_halls @ZaffreBooks @ElStammeijer #BookReview


London, 1847. In a quiet house in the countryside outside London, the finishing touches are being made to welcome a group of young women. The house and its location are top secret, its residents unknown to one another, but the girls have one thing in common: they are fallen. Offering refuge for prostitutes, petty thieves and the destitute, Urania Cottage is a second chance at life - but how badly do they want it?

Meanwhile, a few miles away in a Piccadilly mansion, millionairess Angela Burdett-Coutts, one of the benefactors of Urania Cottage, makes a discovery that leaves her cold. Her stalker of ten years has been released from prison, and she knows it's only a matter of time before their nightmarish game resumes once more.

As the women's worlds collide in ways they could never have expected, they will discover that freedom always comes at a price . . .

The Household is the new novel from the award-winning, Sunday Times bestselling author of The Familiars, The Foundling and Mrs England. Set against Charles Dickens' home for fallen women and inspired by real figures from history, it is Stacey Halls' most ambitious and captivating novel yet.

The Household by Stacey Halls was published on 11 April 2024 by Manilla Press / Zaffre Books. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

The Household opens as the first resident of the newly opened Urania House begins to settle in. Martha feels quite alone in the house, with only the housekeeper, Mrs Holdsworth for company. 
Urania House is situated just outside of the city of London, surrounded by countryside, away from the hustle and bustle and the dirty streets. The house is the brainchild of novelist Charles Dickens and has been funded by Angela Coutts; by far the richest single woman in the country. 

Dickens and Coutts vision is to help young women who have fallen on hard times, some of them will have been in prison, some of them in the Magdalen hospital for prostitutes. They believe that given a clean and comfortable home, allowed to learn new skills and dress in brightly coloured clothes, they can pave their way to a new life in Australia. 

Whilst Dickens is the instigator of the project, it is Angela Coutts who features more heavily in the story. Despite her wealth and status in London, Angela has lived in fear for many years. She has been followed and pestered and stalked by Richard Dunn since she was a teenager. Even though he has been imprisoned many times, he's very clever, a barrister by trade and always finds a way to get back to her.

The lives of the girls at Urania House, along with Angela's story are the main plot of this novel and they interweave beautifully together. Stacey Halls has created a cast of characters who are colourful, larger than life and in the main, very strong and able women, despite the difficulties they may have faced. 

As the reader gets to know more about Martha, Josephine, Polly and the others, we see young women with different upbringings who have found themselves in trouble for varying reasons. As they begin to learn new skills and live together comfortably, we really feel that Dickens' idea is going to work. However, as always, there are people who work against the good and some of these young women are tempted. Some leave, some return, and each one of them has a story to tell 

This is a fabulous historical novel, rich in detail and whilst more character driven than plot driven, the central mysteries are intriguing and toward the end of the book, the story really gathers pace.

I've enjoyed Stacey Halls' previous novels and this one is also a great read. I do love to discover things about our history that I had no idea about before and have spent time reading up about Urania House and Dickens' work.  Recommended by me. 

Stacey Halls was born in 1989 and grew up in Rossendale, Lancashire. 

She studied journalism at the University of Central Lancashire and has written for publications including the Guardian, Stylist, Psychologies, the Independent, the Sun and Fabulous. 
Her first book, The Familiars, was the bestselling debut hardback novel of 2019, won a Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the British Book Awards Debut Book of the Year. 
The Foundling, her second, was a Sunday Times bestseller, as was her third Mrs England. 
Mrs England was longlisted for the Portico Prize, the Walter Scott Prize and won the Women's Prize Futures Award.

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