Nobody's Girl (by Kitty Neale)

I haven't previously come across or heard of Kitty Neale, but it seems she writes the realistic historical novels set in the UK.

In 'Nobody's Girl', Bernie Dolby and his dominating wife Dolly run a café. As the story starts, their only waitress walks out, unable to cope with Dolly's bullying. Shortly afterwards, the job is taken by Pearl, a sixteen-year-old who grew up in an orphanage. She is meek and respectful, and gets along fairly well at first. Some rather seedy characters visit the cafe, but one of them takes Pearl under his wing, and she finds many of them to be warm-hearted under rather rough exteriors.

Unfortunately, Pearl falls for Kevin, who is Bernie and Dolly's lazy and selfish son. And although Kevin isn't interested in her at first, he gradually starts to notice her, much to Dolly's disapproval. Pearl has to make a very difficult decision, which hurts someone who cares for her deeply.

The story revolves around these people and their friends, set in the 1950s in South London. I found it very readable, on the whole, although there were some slightly irritating authorial asides in places. The background and conversation all seemed authentic, and although many of the people were somewhat caricatured, Pearl is a likeable girl on the whole. She has some faults, which she gradually acknowledges as she matures.

Unfortunately, I felt there were far too many sordid situations covered. Kevin is involved in some shady enterprises, which are important for the overall plot of the book. But he also has an unpleasantly sadistic side which seemed entirely unnecessary. Then there is bullying, prostitution, kidnapping, rape, burglary, mental illness, attempted murder and worse... I found it rather stressful having so much unpleasantness in one book.

Still, anyone who enjoys the gritty style of historical novel would probably like it.

It does not yet appear to have reached the USA, but is available inexpensively from Amazon UK.

(I wrote a longer review of 'Nobody's Girl' at the Bookbag site)

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