Friday 27 October 2023


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, na├»ve 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 imagined.

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.

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