The year is 1960. Laura Peterson is aged 14. She attends a grammar school. Her parents are hard up but proud and self-reliant. Laura meets a young French boy named Léon. In a deserted cricket pavilion the two young people have full and unprotected sex. Laura is hardly aware of what is happening. She is certainly not able to give informed consent. Of course she becomes pregnant. She conceals her pregnancy from her parents until a point where termination would no longer have been possible, even if it had not been illegal in 1960.
Before her parents learn Laura’s deadly secret, the family take a holiday. Her father is a coach driver, so their holiday takes place in a coach. Completely by chance they encounter Aunt Suzanna, the estranged younger sister of Laura’s mother. The estranged aunt will play a significant role later in the story.
Of course once the pregnancy is known no more is heard of Léon. Laura’s parents are outraged. She has betrayed the moral standards of the family. There is no question of Laura giving birth at home. Instead her parents send her to live for the remainder of her pregnancy and to give birth at a mother and baby home called Heathcote House, where Wilson unfolds the rest of her narrative.
The book will pose certain questions. What sort of life was on offer in a mother and baby home of the 1960s? How will the birth of the child be handled? And what prejudices will be faced by Laura and the other young mothers? Will Laura wish to keep her baby? If so will she be encouraged or even allowed to do so?
This novel is of course appropriate for the oldest of Wilson’s huge readership. The book discusses sex and sexual abuse. It describes in detail the process of childbirth. It depicts with clarity the distress of young mothers deprived of the chance to keep their babies, and the wall of social condemnation confronting these women. Once Laura becomes pregnant, society decides that she has deprived herself of every civil right. Of all the varied themes Wilson has addressed in her huge oeuvre, none goes so directly to the heart of a corrupt and merciless society in the recent past. What traces of this prejudice survive today? More than we think. Given Wilson’s immense talent to amuse, she deserves great credit for undertaking this much more sombre task.