From the first chapter where Nancy has a baby, which is then taken by her sister Clara and given away, to the final reversal of fortune for the two sisters, the reader is taken on a journey through the fight for women’s suffrage and the choices young women had to make.
Clara works at Holloway Prison, where many suffragettes, the more militant of the movements for votes for women, are taken and when on hunger strike force fed. Her sister Nancy, raped by her own father, is taken by Clara to join her as a warder, after the birth of the baby. On the suffragette wing, Nancy becomes fascinated, indeed obsessed, by Daisy Divine, an actress, witnessing her courage as she is force fed. and is slowly drawn into the movement, which ultimately culminates in her own arrest for a bombing. Clara wrestles with her desire for a career but chooses another path.
The courage of the suffragettes and the ‘cat and mouse’ techniques where they are released until they are well enough to be re-arrested grips the reader. The scenes of force feeding are hard to read, but at the heart of the story are the choices women had to make and the lives they led as a result. Clara who also suffered at the hands of her father, has made her move out of the family home and started a seemingly successful career, but is torn by her love for Ted, and the knowledge of what marriage would mean, the loss of all her dreams, even that of owning a bicycle. For today’s young women these choices are spelled out all too clearly. Nancy starts as a girl who feels she has been weak and manipulated learns she has courage to strike out on her own.
This book is a tour de force and a must read for all young women, telling them of the courage and conviction of those women who fought for their vote, and ultimately the lives they can lead now. It would have been good to have some suggestions for further reading but this is a small point.