Rose Alley

Written by Audrey Howard
Review by Ann Lyon

Audrey Howard’s new book is classic Victorian melodrama. From the foetid Liverpool slum of the title, Queenie Logan and her improbably named daughter, Gillyflower, struggle against Poverty, Convention, Jealousy, Snobbery, Violence, Rape and Tragedy to eventual Triumph and Marriage. The villains are utterly villainous; our heroines are beautiful, hard-working, resourceful and intelligent. And naturally Gilly and dashing shipbuilding heir, Lucas Barrie, would have married much earlier but for misunderstandings, lovers’ tiffs and the complication of childhood sweetheart, Jem Wilson.

If you can tolerate the endless descriptions of Gilly’s beauty and perfect dress sense, Rose Alley makes an enjoyable read. However, having parents from that part of the world, I found the author’s attempts to write Scouse dialect tiresome. Ms Howard, though born in Birkenhead, cannot decide whether her characters speak Scouse or Lancashire, as mingled with Cilla Black’s “lorra” and “gorra,” we have “’appen” this and “’appen” that. Admittedly, my parents were middle class, but my father served an apprenticeship in the workshops of the Mersey Dock & Harbour Board, and my mother tended children from the Birkenhead slums as a nurse. Both insist that ‘appen has no place in the Scousers’ lexicon. At times the period detail is distinctly heavy-handed, with descriptions of journeys taken straight off the street map, and the opening ceremonies for Sefton Park from newspapers of the day. But at the same time Ms Howard misses some obvious points. At a time when the age of majority was twenty-one, no bank manager would make a loan to a girl of seventeen, however impressive her business acumen, nor would that girl be able to take a lease of commercial premises.

Ah well, an undemanding read for a wet winter weekend.