This is a review of the 2007 book 'Nobody's Girl' by Kitty Neale. It's not my usual choice of reading being saga-like but sometimes it's nice to have a change and read something different.
In Nobody's Girl, we are quickly introduced to the catch-ily titled 'Pearl Button' a baby dumped on the orphanage steps only a few hours old and so titled because she was clutching a little pearl button in her hand when discovered. Roll on 16 years to the 1950s and Pearl is on her own, having never been fostered out or adopted due to mysterious circumstances. She has aspirations to study at art classes but first needs a roof over her head and a modest wage to keep her going. She finds a job at a local café, working for a harridan called Dolly who couldn't be less doll-like if she tried. Peal keeps her head down and begins to find her place in the small market town community. She makes friends and feels like her life is getting bearable even landing a kind and loving boyfriend, Derek who is everything she wants except a bit ugly being an amateur boxer. He becomes a friend and father figure to her but could the innocent Pearl live with him being her lover?
This was a fun read with a touching community angle to it. The market traders look after their own and are suspicious of any newcomers. There are some serious issues covered, including paedophilia, family ties and of course the story of how Pearl comes to be on the orphanage steps in the first place. Pearl's eye is taken by the son of café owner Dolly but she is warned off him by many as he's known to be a bad lad. There is something about the good looking Kevin that makes Dolly melt every time she sees him but he's definitely trouble.
In addition to the main players, there are a few more who appear in the book and make their mark, particularly the owner of a second hand clothes shop Bessie who has a second sense and makes a few predictions to Peal that turn out to be spot on. The two form a lovely bond and look out for each other, welcoming simple minded Nora to their little living quarters over the shop when her mother can't look after her any more. The three have an agreeable existence and also manage to turn the shop's fortune around by a little TLC and a few trips to the laundry with the clothes that are for sale! Other characters we meet are the market trader Frank whose son goes missing in potentially tragic circumstances. When Pearl comes to the rescue, Frank has a real soft spot for her and tries to help when she has a few problems. Bernie, who is the downtrodden husband of café owner Dolly is a lovely man and really looks out for Pearl but is held back by his wife's domination.
I can't remember where my copy came from but I think this is one I'll pass on to my MIL as it's her kind of saga book she likes. I have seen the kindle version on Amazon for £1.99 which I think is a reasonable price for this book. Paper copies can be bought for 1p second hand on the site with a few quid for postage as usual.
I liked reading this and whilst I wouldn't want to read the same genre back to back, I think these are OK once in a while. It reminds me of the relative poverty a lot of people lived hand to mouth in 1950s Britain and how lucky we are today. The author Kitty Neal was born in South London and writes about this working class area in a lot of her novels. I would be happy to read further books by this author in the future.