Thursday, 1 September 2016

Review: The Mauricewood Devils by Dorothy Alexander

Title: The Mauricewood Devils
Author: Dorothy Alexander
Publisher: Freight Books
Pages: 225
Genres: Historical Fiction

The Mauricewood Devils
The year is 1889. When a fire tears through the Mauricewood coal pit there is no escape. Of sixty-five men working, only two survive. Many of the bodies will not be recovered for months.

Martha and her sister have lived with their granny since their mother died, but she is not kind. The death of their father in the Disaster means an end to any chance of a better life. For Martha’s stepmother, Jess, the wait for a body to bury, and the struggle to deal with a loss that is both collective and private, is agonizing.

With many of the miners families left destitute, the women of Mauricewood undertake a campaign for compensation and justice against the criminally negligent pit owners.

Martha and Jess’s stories lie at the heart of this elegy to the closeknit communities of the pit villages in a gripping tribute to resilience and courage in the face of utter catastrophe, based on true events, original source material and Alexander’s own family history.
A heart-wrenching story inspired by the 1889 Mauricewood pit disaster in Penicuik, Scotland that resulted in the fatalities of sixty-three men. I found it so unexpectedly fascinating that I devoured this book in one sitting and shed quite a few tears. It's such a tragic story.

I love historical fiction that focuses on obscure events in history. I had never heard of the pit disaster in 1889 but this book breathed new life into that event. The story is told from two perspectives; that of Jess, the wife of one of the miners that was killed and his younger daughter, Martha. Jess's perspective was the most difficult to read as I just can't imagine what she went through not knowing how long her husband was trapped before he died. I was really intrigued by all of the details of what family life and working life was like for a miner in that time period. My heart wept for the injustices and the gross negligence that the owners of the Mauricewood coal pit were not held accountable for. Many fathers, husbands, sons, brothers and friends were lost that day and yet it briefly registered on the wider nation's conscience at the time.

Martha's narrative consists of the good memories she has of her dad as well as childish fantasies of rescuing him. It was heartbreaking to see just how resilient children are and how they have unique coping mechanisms. Working in a coal pit in this time period is a very cruel way for someone to earn a living and I was shocked by how the workers and their families were treated. Interspersed throughout the book there are extracts of factual reports from the time that show the official attitude to the disaster, further reinforcing the reality of the event to the reader.

Beautifully crafted, page-turning and captivating; I would highly recommend The Mauricewood Devils.

I was given a free copy of the book by the publisher. I was not required to give a review. All opinions stated are my own.

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