A nostalgic read in more ways than one. First of all I hail from the city of Liverpool and the references to many of the places, such as Lime Street, the Liverpool Royal Infirmary and the Blue Coat School, as well as the statesmen who also came from the city, bring the comfort of recognition.
This is a simple heart-warming story set in Victorian Liverpool just after the Crimean War. It focuses on trainee nurses and reflects the social classes of the time as they witness a variety of patients. The main one is an eight year-old orphan boy who was injured while working as a chimney sweep, having been bought from the workhouse. Others include an injured ex-soldier who fought in the Crimean who met up with real historical figures of Mary Seacole and Florence Nightingale, whose methods of nursing the hospital adopts.
The writing style evokes nostalgia as well as I remember reading stories like this a long time ago. Despite references to prostitution and severe injuries there are no graphic scenes or any kind of lurid language. When coupled with the simple themes of compassion, friendship and the limitations imposed on women, this makes a suitable read for youngsters to gain a flavour of Victorian times and especially the social norms for women and children.
The story doesn't begin in a great way, with an information dump about the central characters' backgrounds and family ties. I understand that this is a sequel but there are better strategies to include previous story lines. There is also the contrived and clumsy technique of describing someone's face as they catch their own reflection (oh dear). Eventually this settles down and the story begins.
There are many strong and forthright females, which was probably the case in the women dominated nurses field, but there are times when the timid ones overstretch credibility as most women in Victorian England knew their place. Nevertheless, after the slow start the new nurses' challenges in the hospital keep the interest going with the philosophy of Florence Nightingale and the Victorian beliefs a fascinating insight. A nice touch is that each chapter includes a quote from Nightingale.
This is an easy, engaging tale with a good pace and very enjoyable, especially if gentle medical and nostalgia are your thing. Recommended.
The Liverpool Nightingales is published by Penguin on 21 February and is available to buy now.
Advanced review copy supplied by the publisher.
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