Living in Hope

Written by Sue Allan
Review by Janet Williamson

This novel, which is divided into three related stories, was prompted by research into the author’s own family history and from a recurring nightmare. Mary’s story begins in the poverty of Ballinderry, County Antrim, 1793, when she lost her heart to John Weatherup, who enlists as a soldier in the Royal Artillery after witnessing the Ulster Uprising. He leaves her behind, but returns after four years, during which time he served and was wounded in the Peninsular War. He marries Mary and brings her to England to live in the Woolwich Barracks. Whilst sharing the communal quarters with the other married couples, she realises that the army rules her as unfairly and unreasonably as it does her husband.

Despatched to the Sugar Isles, they travel on the ship Enmity, in cramped, insanitary conditions and arrive in Barbados, but are moved to the volcanic St. Vincent Isle, where Mary is discriminated against because she is Irish. When La Soufriėre volcano erupts, the couple are admitted into Fort Charlotte for their own safety, but grieve for those who were not saved.

Their son, Robert, dies and John commutes his army pension to buy a tract of land in Ontario, Canada. Their given land is boggy, untillable and near a sinister forest.  Striving for survival affects their health, and Mary dies.

The following two stories concern their descendants: Mary Anne, who briefly finds happiness but is tried for infanticide, and Edith May, the abandoned wife and mother in London of 1915.

I found this an absorbing read. The stories are packed with information that conveys the conventions and attitudes affecting the characters, and portray realistic and at times harrowing details, which leave a lasting impression on the reader.