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The Foundling by Stacey Halls - Review

Monday, June 5, 2023


As I had enjoyed Mrs England by Stacey Halls I decided I would get her other books to read too. I picked this up in late May; I read mostly on my tablet in May because I was away and it's just easier. I raced through this book and really enjoyed it. 

It's set in the mid 1700s in London. Bess gives birth to a daughter in 1747, in November, and we first meet her when she is at The Foundling hospital ready to give up her baby. She calls the baby Clara and would like to keep her but she just can't afford it. Bess works as a shrimp seller - her father Abe is a fishmonger down on the docks, and her brother Ned is a bit of a drunken waster. Bess' mother died a lot of years earlier. The baby's dad was a merchant who gave Bess half of a whalebone heart; she leaves this at the hospital with the baby. This is noted down so that when she comes to claim the baby (if she does), the administrators will know that the baby really is here. 

Bess spends the next six years saving up money to reclaim her daughter. She arrives at the hospital one day, excited to bring her child home, but she is told that someone has taken baby Clara - the baby's mother. But that can't be, because Bess is her mother. Bess has no idea where her child is, but one of the doctors at the hospital is willing to help her. 

Then we meet the mysterious and reclusive Alexandra, and her daughter, Charlotte. Alexandra has two servants, lives in a huge house just off Harley Street, and keeps all four of them locked up most of the time. She and Charlotte only leave the house to go to church, to the chapel attached to the Foundling hospital. Alexandra is clearly traumatised, and moreso after the death of her husband. Into her life comes Eliza... 

I really liked the look at London in this period - it was interesting to hear about all the different areas of London and which were at that time more rural, parts that you would now consider right in the middle of London! I could imagine Alexandra's house perfectly and enjoyed the parts about the tiny yard where Bess lived and the small rooms she inhabited. 

You might remember that I read another book about a girl that grew up in the Foundling hospital: Lily: A Tale of Revenge, which I read for book club back in November 2022. The hospital is a real place and you can apparently visit the museum. It was interesting to go back to it and I will recommend this book to people in my book club in case they are also interested! 

I'm giving this four out of five as I really liked it! I did think the ending was maybe a little bit unrealistic but it's a book so it's fine! 

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