The Trial of Lotta Rae

Written by Siobhan MacGowan
Review by Sally Zigmond

The brewery where respectable working-class Lotta (Charlotte) Rae and her beloved father earn their living always holds a party on Halloween night. During the gathering in 1909, Lotta is raped by a wealthy gentleman, an acquaintance of the owner. Her father is devastated and encourages her to press charges. The case comes to court where she is defended by an up-and-coming barrister, William Linden. She trusts him implicitly and so tells him absolutely everything about her life.

When her attacker is triumphantly acquitted with no stain on his character, Lotta is publicly shamed as a fallen woman, even a harlot. Although Linden realises he has been set up to fail, his acquiescence leads him on to greater influence and affluence, as a King’s Counsel (an honour granted by the monarch to distinguished lawyers) and eventually as a judge.

This one event leads them both on a course of shocking trauma and perdition, enemies in life and beyond, involving the actions of the Suffragette movement and the First World War.

It took me a while to understand the author’s purpose. Had I known from the beginning that there was a supernatural element to it, I would have understood it better. I also struggled with characterisation and motivation. Lotta is a tragic victim of male power, but wavers and becomes an on-and-off opium addict, suffragette and mother, and Linden a victim of corruption at the highest levels of society. Revenge dominates, but love shines above it. A good read, but confusing.