Friday, October 15, 2010

Hope Against Hope by Sally Zigmond

Eighteen-year-old Carrie Hope and her younger sister May, who is twelve, lose both home and livelihood when their Leeds pub is sold out from under them to make way for the coming of the railway.

They head for Harrogate to find work in the newly prosperous spa town, but lose all their possessions in an accident along the way. Spurning the help of Alex Sinclair, a kindly Scot who comes to their rescue, Carrie presses on for Harrogate where the girls immediately fall prey to predators. A misunderstanding drives the sisters apart, and their mutual pride won’t allow them to reconcile over the coming years, despite the encouragement of friends.

Carrie marries a wealthy man for money, and to escape a brothel, May goes to Paris with a lecherous man she does not know and becomes his mistress. Carrie becomes a virtual slave to the vicious hostess of a filthy boarding house and the victim of her vindictive son.

Alex Sinclair, a bold and warm-spirited Scot, a railway engineer loves Carrie, but when his wealthy and disreputable doctor friend, Charles Hammond, is forced to marry her for money, he keeps his feelings to himself and leaves her to her fate. The years pass and the sisters overcome more than their fair share of various hardships. May becomes the most sought after dressmaker in Paris, and Carrie, the proprietor of the most successful hotel in Harrogate.

Charles Hammond, Carrie’s husband in name only, is almost destroyed through gambling, drunkenness and medical ineptitude, but tired of his destructive way of life, appeals to Carrie who helps him onto the long and difficult road to redemption.

In 1848, when Carrie and May have been estranged for ten years, the streets of Paris erupt in bloody insurrection...while Alex Sinclair is commissioned to bring the railway to Harrogate.

This novel is almost an epic, which jumps from Harrogate to Paris and back again as the two sisters pursue happiness, with friends, but also enemies and at times the reader wonders if either will ever have a quiet life.

There is plenty of adventure for the sisters in this novel and it makes a good read if you don’t mind suspending your disbelief at some points. For instance how would an eighteen-year-old girl be running a pub alone in 1837? There is also a line where Carrie has a faded picture of Queen Victoria’s coronation, a year before she was crowned. There is also a reference to two of their friends being ‘like Albert and Victoria’, three years before the royal couple actually marry.

But then this is fiction, so maybe historical accuracy isn’t necessary, and as far as a rollicking story goes, this should satisfy readers who like epic novels – and at 448 pages - this is a long book!

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