This is a book about suffragettes, poverty, history, terror, loyalty and love. It is an account by the fictional Maggie Robins, a working class London girl in 1905, of her extraordinary time spent living, working and fighting with the suffragettes.
Maggie Robbins comes from a home where there is not enough food to feed all the hungry mouths, her Ma is exhausted and her Pa often comes home drunk. For Maggie to get a job as a maid for a wealthy couple is an extraordinary chance for her to lift herself out of the stinking, penniless world she comes from. But she never expects to become involved in the activities of Mrs Pankhurst, Miss Davison and the other women who are prepared to fight to the death if necessary for The Cause which they believe in so fervently.
Maggie finds herself in a war of injustice, misery, protest, horror and friendship and before she can decide what she herself really believes in, she is typing posters, smashing windows and enduring torture for the sake of helpless women everywhere.
As a result of Maggie's new life she often becomes involved with the police and this is how she meets Constable Fred Thorpe, the kind of man that Maggie has never known before and begins to realise she loves more than she had ever thought she could. But Fred is a policeman, and Maggie is now a criminal, fighting for justice and votes for women, which has become a huge part of her life. How can she choose between The Cause and her heart?
This book transports you to pre-war, pre-votes for women England. It is extraordinary in that Sarah Grazebrook manages to convey a serious belief and a nobleness in the equality these women are fighting for, and at the same time does not hesitate to reveal some of the questionable ways that they went about it.
Some of the characters irritate you more than you would have thought possible of someone fighting for justice. As you read this book you feel just as Maggie does, confused about what really is the right thing to do, when fighting for what is just means burning houses.
This is not a diary but the first person narration and the way that the narrator, Maggie, does not know what is going to happen next, gives the feeling of a diary. The author manages to keep the working class, not highly educated and quite naive voice of Maggie Robbins authentic but uses the way that Maggie thinks to include beautiful description of her world.
The format of this book is interesting. It does not have chapters but is simply split into five parts (and a postscript), each at different stages in the development of the fight of the suffragettes and of Maggie's life. It ends just after the war in 1918. This format did fit with the style of the book but at times I found that it made it a little slow to read although it did not stop me enjoying it. The way it skipped through time worked well as a way to keep the story going but I found that it made the ending feel a little abrupt. However I found the implied ending rather than an account which spelled out what happened, a really good way of finishing the book.
Real people and events from history appear in this book which are fascinating to read about and fit really well in this fictional context. The reality of some scenes mean that some parts of this book are hard to read because they do not give you the thrill of a fictional horror story about ghosts and monsters, only the sickening horror of what really did happen. It is harder when the monsters are people.
This book is extremely informative both about the suffragette movement and about the living conditions of the poor. The fictional story which goes along side it of Maggie Robbins and Constable Fred Thorpe is no less intriguing. It is a complicated kind of love story but the fact that it is fraught with sadness and suffering makes the moments of joy more heart warming.
I would definitely recommend this book to older readers both as historical research and because it is an incredible story to read.