The Empire Girls

Written by Sue Wilsher
Review by Valerie Loh

1950s south Essex. This is the dramatic story of Doris, brought up in The Empire, a boarding house in Tilbury by her mother, Vi. Doris’s world is claustrophobic as Vi struggles to hide her own past and keep her daughter respectable and by her side. Vi owns the pub and her brother-in-law, Archie and her sister, Win, help her run it. When the young, unwed Doris gives birth, which is as much a shock to her as it is to her family, she is sent to The Salvation Army’s home in Grays and told not to bring ‘It’ back. Doris’s life has just changed inexplicably, from cosseted to outcast. The ignorance shown to the Windrush Generation, Commonwealth citizens from Jamaica, is revealed. These loyal subjects were rejected by the locals, as Doris is by her family for keeping her illegitimate child. Doris helps one immigrant. She is an innocent; she is in denial and shock and has much to learn. Despite the predators who would bring her lower, Doris is a survivor who makes friends. She finds her cause, her destiny and her passion for life and her daughter.

The blinkered outlook of a closed community resounds, but eyes are opened and there is change, which takes time. From oppression, abuse and hatred, coupled with appalling inverted snobbery, there is a strong message of hope and understanding. Even if it is impossible to forget rejection, in time it is possible to forgive. This is a very emotional read that shows how people and viewpoints can change if only that change is welcomed and embraced.