An Orphan’s Wish (Blessed St Hilda’s Orphanage)

Written by Elizabeth Gill
Review by Douglas Kemp

Set in the north east of England, the novel begins at Christmas 1900, with Flo and Joshua Butler preparing for their usual solitary festive period. But their plans are thrown into confusion when they receive a letter telling them that their estranged son Michael and his wife Rosa have died far away in Japan. Michael and Rosa had four children, who were arriving in England with the intention of making their home with their grandparents, Flo and Joshua. But the problem is that the grandparents were unable to forgive the orphans’ mother, Rosa, for capturing their beloved son in what they thought an inappropriate emotional relationship and rather capriciously are reluctant to have anything to do with these unfortunate young people. Connie and Dom are the senior siblings, and it is Connie as the de facto head of the group for whom the wish in the title of the novel refers. Their grandparents’ cruel attitude is shaken when Grandmother Flo becomes seriously ill, and they have little option but to accept assistance from Connie and her siblings.

It is a simple novel, written in easy and not terribly elegant prose – very much in line with the historical saga genre. The research about conditions and challenges in the north east of England at the beginning of the 20th century is accomplished; this is where Elizabeth Gill hails from, and she understands her locality and historical background well. The reader just knows there will be a happy outcome, for this is the way with these stories.