Molly Thomas is a feisty, independent soul, born on the Winter Solstice. At every stage of her life she has faced troubles. As a young woman her family are evicted from their home at Christmas. Molly swears vengeance on the jealous neighbour and land agent responsible, Flann Montgomery. Then in 1896 her baby son is taken from his pram. Molly searches the streets for Oliver. The police are called but her baby is gone. Why does trouble seem to follow Molly? And will she ever find out what happened to her child?
December Girl is a tale of family bonds, love, revenge and murder.
This lady can write! Nicola Cassidy’s story-telling is compelling; her prose has a unique tone and her descriptive passages – the countryside, events and, above all, emotions, particularly depression – are superbly written.
The story is mainly about Molly, written in first person. Henry Brabazon in Ireland and Gladys in London are also important characters, who have their own chapters, written in third person. It is good to read about a lord of the manor who is a kind and considerate man, rather than the oft-used trope of a cruel, profligate and misogynistic one. Gladys’s mental torments are well written, without recourse to labels.
Molly lurches from tragedy to tragedy – some of her own making, but her character is so well written that at most the reader will question the decision rather than condemn it. The reader’s journey alongside her has some breath-taking moments and the writing ensures we are with her rather than watching her. Tiny observational details are expertly woven in and the reader can almost feel what Molly is feeling.
I had some issues with the structure. There is a prologue and an epilogue and I get the impression these are more important to the writer than to the reader – they didn’t set me up for the story between them or finish it off in any meaningful way. The first chapter also acts as a prologue. A lot of readers don’t like prologues (I am not one of them; I always read them, but they have to be needed) and effectively to have two doesn’t bode well for getting your readers on board. Additionally, the first chapter is in all italics, which is very hard to read. There is plenty of action in the few chapters following, and plenty to shock, so I would have preferred to see the current chapter one appear in its chronological place – I really don’t think it’s needed to draw the reader in. The rest of section one is a mixture of current and past events and I got a bit lost trying to work out the order in which things happened. The to-ing and fro-ing happens in the rest of the book too but is easier to follow, although still requires some reader work. Occasionally events and people were mentioned that weren’t explained straight away and I had to stop and look back to see if I had missed anything, which interrupted my immersion in the otherwise gripping and emotional story.
Tenses tend to get a bit mixed up in Molly’s chapters and this made my reading stumble. Tiny historical detail gave the story an authenticity that puts the reader firmly in the setting. This engagement was marred by the occasional word or term that wasn’t from the era and which made me question the overall historical accuracy. An extra layer of research could have made this a more enjoyable and trustworthy historical read.
I heard an excellent interview with author on her local radio, in which she said that the benefit of publishing with a digital publisher is that things can move fast towards publication; I feel, however, that maybe an extra month of pre-press would have made this fantastic book into a brilliant one.
I love the dedication: “For English teachers everywhere, who light the spark of a dream.”
Nicola Cassidy has a great writing career in front of her, I am certain. If she continues novel writing, and with some clear editorial direction, she could become one of Ireland’s foremost authors. I love her writing voice.
Editorial Input & Design
I feel the author has been let down somewhat by the publisher. I think the structure of the book needs some work and some chapters moved. As a reader my preference for this story would be largely chronological (I know that’s not wholly possible because of the overlap of different people’s stories) – the flitting about seems unnecessary and is confusing. I think the murder could have been made a little more mysterious, or at least have left the reader not entirely sure of the perpetrator until later in the book.
Another pass of copy-editing is needed. A wrong name is used. There are a few wrong words and punctuation needs attention, particularly the use and placing of commas; there are some comma splices but also some seemingly randomly placed commas that interrupt the flow of reading. Words not of the era should be weeded out: skinny-dipping, brolly, tannoy, john (as a prostitute’s client), dicky bow, gotten, semester, dorm. There is some clumsy phrasing: “his pallor pale”, “teeth gritted against each other”; some nonsense phrasing: “they said but I didn’t hear”; some inconsistency: bloomers/knickers. Historical facts need checking: Did the working classes wear bloomers? Would women have ridden side-saddle rather than astride? Why would a younger son inherit the estate? Would it have been unusual for a working-class man to have a farm and a business in town? Would a member of the aristocracy send a letter in a manilla envelope? Would a couple marry in the groom’s parish rather than the bride’s? Tenses within chapters are sometimes muddled and there is an occasional lapse of POV.
Proofreading would have helped to clear up some of the above, and a proofreader would have changed spaced hyphens to spaced en-dashes.
Cover: It’s lovely. At first I thought it wasn’t particularly appropriate for the book – maybe something to represent stones or the mound at Dowth would have been more in keeping – but it does give a sense of loneliness that Molly feels. The strap-line wouldn’t have encouraged me to read the book if I hadn’t already been eager to do so.
The book blurb wouldn’t persuade me to buy the book.
Internal design: I read this on a Kindle. Generally it is OK, but spaced hyphens are used instead of spaced en-dashes (although spaced en-dashes are sometimes used). The chapter headings are inconsistently set and worded.
Book Clubs & Reviews
This would be a great book club read. There is so much to dissect and unravel and discuss: the characters, the settings, the class structure, the politics, the role of women.
What others are saying: Amazon UK readers give it four stars (3 reviewers); Amazon US readers give it four stars (2 reviewers); Goodreads readers give it 4.13 stars (8 ratings).
Buy & Author
Amazon (Kindle £0.99/$0.99; paperback £8.99)
Connect with the author:
Website ladynicci.com (lifestyle, parenting and literary blog)
Links of interest
LMFM Radio interview with the author – starts at 39:30
Disclaimer: I received a mobi file from the publisher and press pack from the author as part of the blog tour for this book, October 2017.