Or Forever Be Damned

Written by C.S. Burrough
Review by Shannon Gallagher

Once, not so long ago, a little island nation ruled over an empire on which the sun never set. This is a simple statement of fact, but a mighty one. The age of empire building is the backdrop to the beginning of Burrough’s generational saga, which follows the height of British power through its collapse. It is against this backdrop that Burrough frames his narrative and through which the enormity of change that occurred during the 20th century is illuminated.

The narrative is framed around the lives and the families of two very different women who both escape the slums of Salford, England. Salford, a city which tried to match the success of nearby Manchester and failed miserably, was at its lowest point in the 1930s, and both women are scarred by their years spent there. Mona is a factory worker who yearns for a life on stage and is frustrated by her younger, favored and more talented brother, Ambrose. Mona resolves to outshine him. She meets Kat, a veteran child actor, who yearns to escape the theatre life, as much as Mona dreams of having one. The two seem destined to be at odds from the beginning.

Or Forever be Damned is more than a novel; it is also just as much an enlightening commentary on the vast change time brings to society and how attitudes, values, formalities, expectations and conventions break down, to the great joy of some and the great heartbreak of others. It is certainly painstakingly researched and meticulous in its detail, and the characters are so wonderfully and richly crafted that one wonders if they correspond to people who once lived extraordinary but unknown lives. A highly recommended example of historical fiction at its finest.