The Girl From Pit Lane

Written by Gracie Hart
Review by Katherine Mezzacappa

Though set in a different geographical setting (a pit village near Leeds), Gracie Hart’s story follows Catherine Cookson’s lead, describing two young Victorian seamstresses surviving against the odds; the book’s cover is badged ‘A Yorkshire Maggie Hope’, referring to the prolific County Durham author. Mary-Anne and Eliza’s widowed mother Sarah has remarried, but her miner husband drinks and beats her; she has unwillingly become the mistress of the pit-owner in lieu of rent, but dies procuring an abortion. The pit-owner then moves onto Mary-Anne, impregnating her too.

For this reviewer this novel needed much tighter editing. Reading the draft aloud might have picked up many of the repetitions, malapropisms, and shaky grammar: for example, phrases like ‘being a miner’ appear twice in one short sentence, along with ‘they would be as bigger hypocrites as us’, and ‘a twang of jealousy’ (a twinge, surely?). There is some clunky ‘telling’ as when one sister mentions to the other: ‘old Lewis the landlord at the Boot and Shoe’ when presumably they have known old Lewis and where he works all their lives. Elsewhere there is no explanation where there needs to be: the pit-owner is a former miner, a not impossible but unlikely circumstance in 1857, but we are simply told he is a self-made man with no clues as to how he moved up in the world, clues that might have rounded out a character who is otherwise a bit ‘hiss-the-villain’. Hart evokes well the sounds and smells of her settings, and the cheek-by-jowl way in which her characters live, with every argument audible to the neighbours and every unusual incident (like washing sheets other than on a Monday) noted. The plot is also attractive, so it is a great pity that this novel reads as though it had been rushed into print.