The Unpicking tells the story of three generations of women, each the victim of cruel injustices that reflect the institutionalised prejudices of society and the harsh impact of economic structures.
In the opening section, set in 1877, we meet Lilias. She’s a
vulnerable teenager whose parents have just died and who has found a haven of
sorts in the form of her aunt, Evelina. When she falls in love with a gentleman
who is keen to make her acquaintance, all should be well. Lilias has her
mother’s inheritance and her new husband has several financial plans that are
bound to come to fruition in the not-too-distant future. A growing sense that
all is not well begins to build, then creeps along as the story unfolds.
Husband, Arthur, may not be the fine man Lilias felt she met. His business
acumen may not be all that it seemed. He might need to access Lilias’s
inheritance more quickly than he first anticipated, though Aunt Evelina may
have other ideas. Unfortunately, Arthur has all the cards simply because he is
a male of wealth in a twisted society. Clouds of foreboding grow until they
finally break and the storm pours misery everywhere. We soon find out that the
lunatics don’t need to take over the asylum- they built the thing in the first
place and are already in charge.
Skip a generation and we land in The Lock. It’s Glasgow in
1894. Clemmie lives in a home for young girls. As well as providing shelter for
the girls, it also provides the setting for appalling sexual abuse. Clemmie is
one of the older residents and feels it’s her duty to protect the newcomers
from their inevitable fate. Enter Jeannie, naïve and sad and a perfect target
for preying paedophiles. The weight of tension in this section becomes
unbearable as Clemmie needs to escape before her pregnancy shows, while also
needing to keep Jeannie safe. Clemmie uses an old connection to find a new home
in the slums of Glasgow. The injustices of poverty weigh heavily on her as she
struggles to make ends meet while lodging in the room already occupied by a large
family dominated by wee bairns. Still, she manages to maintain her loyalty to
her friend up until the last.
The Turnkey takes us to Glasgow in 1919. Clemmie’s daughter Mabel has landed on her feet. She’s living in luxury and is keen to make a difference
in the world. It’s a time of strikes and suffragettes and yet more inequity.
She’s determined to right the wrongs of history and battles to join the police
force where she is hidden away in an old broom cupboard to do meaningless work.
It doesn’t matter too much to Mabel as this gives her access to information that
may help her find out what happened to her mother. As she digs up information
about the past, she realises the case isn’t quite as cold as some would want it
to be. Mabel cleverly sidesteps prejudice to carry out her work and, like her
mother before her, opens herself up to dangers that she could never have
Each section of The Unpicking tells a compelling tale.
They’re peppered with the perfect amount of historical detail to bring flavours
to the pot, while the nightmares of the situations darken as if walls are
slowly drawing in, until the space is so small that things become disturbingly
claustrophobic. It’s a satisfying mix that has a reader coasting along enjoying
time and place one moment and nervous about turning the page the next.
As a counterbalance to the atmosphere and action, there are
ripples of humour and each of our lead characters, in spite of their courage,
strength and determination, has a gentleness at her core that’s impossible
not to admire.
The Unpicking will open the doors to many a heart. Why not
give it a try? It might be yours that opens.