The Yearning Heart

Written by Sylvia Broady
Review by Katharine Quarmby

This novel is a curl-up-on-the-sofa read for lovers of historical romance. In war-time Britain, sixteen-year old Frances is forced into an intimate one-night encounter by her brother-in-law and becomes pregnant. As was usual then, the girl was blamed, rather than the man, and Frances is banished to a farm to give birth far away from home. As she goes into labour, her mother Agnes books her in under her sister’s name. After her twins are born, Agnes takes them away. Frances is told not to go near the family and then, chillingly, that her daughter, Christine, has died. Eventually, after years of living alone and missing her child, she sets out to reclaim her lost son, Michael, who has been given to her sister, Isabel. The story does not end there in its multiple cruelties, including her child being sent to Australia and Isabel refusing to acknowledge Frances’s claims. On receiving a letter from Frances, her sister reacts instinctively. “Isabel’s face hardened. She had no intention of replying to Frances. And never would she tell Michael anything. She tore the letter to shreds.”

The novel has pace, and Broady places relatively realistic obstacles in the way of the mother finding her lost child, although some coincidences are a little far-fetched. The East Yorkshire setting is well drawn, and there are some good descriptions of landscape. The historical period is also well conjured. This is a book to read on a rainy day with a full pot of tea. I found the heartless grandmother and bitter adoptive sister a little thin as characters, but Broady deftly unpicks some of society’s feelings about adoption and illegitimacy, tropes that still retain great power today.