A Farm Girl’s Tale …

The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon

this is my book and i am writing it by my own hand.
in this year of lord eighteen hundred and thirty one i am reached the age of fifteen and i am sitting by my window and i can see many things. i can see birds and they fill the sky with their cries. i can see the trees and i can see the leaves.
and each leaf has veins which run down it.
and the bark of each tree has cracks.
i am not very tall and my hair is the colour of milk.
my name is mary and I have learned to spell it, m. a. r. y. that is how you letter it.
i want to tell you what it is that happened but i must be ware not to rush at it like the heifers at the gate for if I do that I will get ahead of my self so quick that I will trip and fall and anyway you will want me to start where a person ought to.
and that is at the beginning.

Mary’s tale is a story simply told by the girl herself. The youngest of four sisters in a farming family that needed sons, she works from dawn to dusk as hard as her crippled leg allows.  However her father tells her one day that she will go to live and work for the vicar helping to take care of his ill wife.  Mary has never left the environs of the farm, except to go to church, and even though the vicarage is only the other end of the village, she cannot expect to see her family often, if at all.

It takes her a good while to adjust to the different work and Mary really misses her old grandfather, and her favourite cow.  Mary is a very forthright girl, and despite her sharp-tongue, Mrs Graham takes to her, but it is not to last.  Mary is surprised to be kept on after she dies, and when Mr Graham offers to teach her to read and write, she can’t wait, but there is a price to pay …

This beautifully crafted short novel was a total delight, easily readable in one sitting, (it held well too, being a petite-sized edition).  Mary was instantly likeable, and her lack of skill in writing didn’t hamper her story at all.  It brought the plight of women from poor families at this time to life vividly. All the characters were well-rounded, from Mary’s violent father and subservient mother, to the kindly yet ‘needy’ vicar and his predatory son. There was a lot of story in this little volume, and comparisons with Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles come to mind, but with the story being told by Mary herself, there was a real freshness to it. I thought I knew what was going to happen, as certain elements are predictable, but the climax was  a surprise in the end, and I loved this little book. (9/10)

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My ARC was kindly supplied by the publisher. Thank you.
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The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon. Pub by Fig Tree on 31st May 2012. Small hardback, 170 pp.

11 thoughts on “A Farm Girl’s Tale …

  1. Susanna P says:

    Thanks for the review! This looks like an interesting read; I love historical fiction, though the comparison with Tess of the d’Urbervilles doesn’t really appeal to me. Do you know if the book is out in the US?

  2. Col says:

    The mention of Tess made me take even more notice. It’s my favourite book so even a little similar is enough to make me add this to the list of books I’ll look out for.

  3. Alex says:

    It’s interesting the different emotions comparing it to ‘Tess’ evokes. I’m in the anti party I’m afraid. I loved Hardy as a teenager but have definitely grown out of him and so this probably isn’t for me.

    • gaskella says:

      Alex, at just 170 little pages and the action taking place over a year, it doesn’t have the scope of Tess, but Mary’s plight is similar in some ways. The rural setting does make me think of Hardy though…

  4. sshaver says:

    I write about the past (but not that far past), so I enjoyed that quote above. In its odd declamatory tone, it also reminded me, for some reason, of inscriptions on gravestones from that century.

  5. LizF says:

    Another one to add to my list as it sounds fascinating!
    Hardy is another one who (almost) got away as I have only read Wessex Tales which is a book of short stories, despite having all the others on my shelf for decades!

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