The Ghost of Lily Painter

Written by Caitlin Davies
Review by Doug Kemp

Split between the early-to-mid 20th century and contemporary North London, this novel has a true event as its core – the insidious practice of baby farming in Victorian and Edwardian England. Young single females could pay to send their unwanted babies to other women, who would then sell them to others who wanted to become mothers. But in some cases the unfortunate infants were killed. The eponymous Lily Painter, a young music-hall girl, becomes pregnant and, in desperation to rid herself of the ruinous burden, resorts to the baby farmers. Her story is uncovered by Annie Sweet in modern-day London. Annie is a separated single mother, and in attempting to find out more about the previous occupants of her Holloway house, she uncovers a strange story that reaches right back into Annie’s own past.

It is a well plotted and capably narrated novel, with the historical elements strong. The story also covers issues in modern England such as family relations and the role of children. However, it does depend upon a number of outrageous coincidences and the plot is completely cliché-ridden too, with an utterly predictable outcome. Lily’s ghost monitors proceedings in Annie’s property, adding another unnecessarily fantastical element to the story.