The Black Silk Purse

Written by Margaret Kaine
Review by Clare Lehovsky

I thoroughly enjoyed The Black Silk Purse. Set in Edwardian England on the brink of suffrage, the novel follows the lives of three people from different walks of life. The protagonist Ella Hathaway, a scullery maid rescued from a workhouse, is unsure of her identity because she is haunted by the words “Your ma was killed deliberate”… Ella’s black silk purse seems the only answer to her question. With the help of spinster Letitia Fairchild and Irishman Rory Adare, Ella slowly finds out what happened.

Kaine’s talented storytelling drives the plot along at a breathtaking pace, and you begin to care for all the characters involved. The attention to historical detail is effortless, and it is easy to understand the mindset of the people of the time: the degradation and shame of the workhouse, the importance of wealth and the allure of America. Similarly, Kaine skillfully includes the prejudices that were around at the time, for example, resentment towards the Irish and the resistance and apprehension towards the prospect of women beginning to fight for the vote. Throughout the novel the author takes you on a journey full of twists, turns and surprises – it is a real page-turner which you will never forget.