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Matilda (Matty) is a young girl growing up in a London slum with her father and siblings in Victorian England. Life looks bleak with no real prospects until a chance encounter with Reverend Giles. Matty is offered a job as nursemaid to his daughter, Tabitha. Her new life takes her to the New World of America, far away from her previous life. First stop is New York but she also finds herself on the pioneers' trail in the Wild Wild West and later on, in San Francisco at the time of the Gold Rush.
I'm a big fan of Lesley Pearse and this book didn't disappoint at all. Matilda is a fantastic character - a strong heroine as is usually the case in her books. I liked her instantly and it's fascinating to follow Matty on her journey. She is just a young girl at the start of the book but wise beyond her years and this maturity and strength of character is much needed for the trials and tribulations that crop up along the year. Lesley Pearse captures the historical period perfectly and I really enjoyed reading this aspect of the book. I usually find that she is at her best with the books set in the past and this is no exception. Poverty is a big theme in the book, as is death. A shocking percentage of the characters in the book die, mostly through the illnesses that were prevalent at this time and the mortality rate really hits home through this.
We first meet Matty as an old woman in the prologue. It's clear that her life has been a hard one and this unfolds over the course of the rest of the book. Unlike most of Pearse's characters, we follow Matty for most of her life from a young girl through to an old woman.
I'm rarely let down by the author's work but even though I have really enjoyed some of her books, this one stands out as one of the best that I've read to date. The combination of an engaging and inspiring central character and the vivid descriptions and kept me hooked. This was by no means a short read - in fact, the paperbook version I was reading was difficult to hold up at times as the book is over 700 pages in total - but at no point did I ever think that the book was too long. I was totally absorbed, which is often not the case with long books. The author brings the story to life and I really felt as though as I going on the journey with Matty. Definitely one to read!
'Never Look Back' follows the life of Matilda Jennings from a young child right through to the latter years of her life. Throughout the book she suffers many trials and tribulations and her life changes considerably starting off in the slums of London to living a slightly more reserved life in San Francisco. There are lots of different stages to her life and she begins life as a flower girl barely making enough to feed herself, her poor father and her two brothers who are little rouges, she then saves the life of a girl and finds herself offered a job working as household help with a clergyman and his wife and this gives her an opportunity to break away from the slums and begin to change her life. She accepts the job offer and this begins a new chapter in her life where she begins to learn about a lot of things and learns how to cook, clean & care for people in a far better way than she previously knew living in a filthy slum. Throughout life she follows the clergyman and his family and there begins a serious of events which will forever mould her life and set her on a different path such as travelling to New York, through the Wild West & ultimately on to San Francisco where she becomes a very successful businessman and along the way in her travels she meets a man, whom she falls in love with. Will everything work out for Matilda or is she just best sticking to her Father's advice of never looking back?
I found this book to be a fantastic read and it is one that I return to at least once a year or so. I recently cleared out a lot of books for the charity shop but this, along with other Lesley Pearse books, will always have a place on my bookshelf. There are lots of twist & turns to this story that will always have me gripped. While I may know the story pretty much by heart, I always find something that I never noticed before. Lesley Pearse is a fantastic author and her characters always have me interested throughout, there is no point within this book that makes me want to skip a few pages and I struggle to find a point where I am happy to put it down and fall asleep, or get out of the bath!
Never Look Back was released by Penguin in and the paperback edition is currently available on Amazon for £5.99 with free delivery.
I would thoroughly recommend this book, it is available in hardback & paperback form and the text is a nice manageable size to read without being too small. I will no doubt read this again in a year or two and I am rating this book 5/5.
I was so touched by the many wonderful reviews that I felt compelled to say thank you to all my readers, and to add a little more information for you. I loved writing Never Look Back, it was a book I had in my heart and mind for many years, even before I was first published. As I researched it, complete with doing the entire Oregon Trail, I was staggered by the hardships those pioneer women had to deal with. I have been accused of killing off too many characters, but in fact that was how life was for those women, a real trail of tears. I remember how when I first discovered about the slums of Five Points in New York I kept trying to tell people about it, and mostly they thought I was exaggerating. Now we have the film Gangs of New York, set in the same place, and perhaps this will convince some of my readers I did do my homework. I have a book in the pipe-line called Remember Me, which I think all the fans of NLB will enjoy. Its a story about a woman who escapes from Australia when it was a penal colony, based on a true story. I hope you will all enjoy that too, Bless all you reviewers! On a bad night when the words don't flow, I get a great deal of pleasure from reading your comments. It makes me feel close to you all.