The Colour of Milk

Written by Nell Leyshon
Review by Cynthia McArthur

“the story begins in the year of eighteen hundred and thirty. the years are of the lord.”

And so begins the story of Mary, the youngest daughter of poor farmers, born with a twisted leg, an eye for detail and a sharp tongue. Always in trouble for something, and because her family needs the income, Mary is sent to become a servant to the vicar’s wife although she’s unhappy to leave her home, especially her disabled grandfather. Even through her unhappiness, Mary quickly bonds with the ailing “mrs,” who enjoys Mary’s straightforward country style. As Mary becomes a staple in the vicar’s home, she must learn to handle new and unsettling emotions brought upon her by the “mrs,” fellow servants, and the vicar’s teenaged son. As so often happens in life, even as Mary seems become somewhat settled, the “mrs” dies suddenly, the teenage son goes off to university, and Mary is again swept up in circumstances beyond her control.

The story is written as Mary would have written in a diary. The vicar agrees to teach her to read and write as a hobby, after the sadness of his wife’s loss, and Mary has written as he has taught her, with introspection, little punctuation, and a simple grammatical style. Even through the discomfort, misery and ultimate tragedy that Mary experiences, she never feels sorry for herself. She moves forward, thinks forward, and resigns herself to some sort of peace at last.

There is a lot of story in this novel’s short pages. I enjoyed the stark, simple writing style and the quick speed at which the story progressed. One might question how Mary has such an advanced vocabulary for one who has only recently begun to read and write, but if taken with a grain of salt, I believe many readers will enjoy this book.