Book Reviews

The Scarlet Sisters: My nanna’s story of secrets and heartache on the banks of the River Thames by Helen Batten

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List Price: £8.99


Paperback: 384 Pages.

Published: 16 July 2015 by Ebury Press

ISBN: 0091959691

EAN: 9780091959692

'Oh my goodness - another girl Mrs Swain!' Clara's normal iron composure broke and she screamed, 'No! That's not the bloody deal!' And that is how my nanna, Bertha Swain, entered the world. When Helen Batten's marriage breaks down, she starts on a journey of discovery into her family's past and the mysteries surrounding her enigmatic nanna's early life. What she unearths is a tale of five feisty red heads struggling to climb out of poverty and find love through two world wars. It's a story full of surprises and scandal - a death in a workhouse, a son kept in a box, a shameful war record, a clandestine marriage and children taken far too soon. It's as if there is a family curse. But Helen also finds love, resilience and hope - crazy wagers, late night Charlestons and stolen kisses. As she unravels the story of Nanna and her scarlet sisters, Helen starts to break the spell of the past, and sees a way she might herself find love again.


4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars  by Anne

Very readable memoir - emotional in places

This is a family memoir of one woman's investigation into the lives of her grandmother and her sisters. The family aren't particularly unusual or notable but they are a normal working class family and the book is stronger because of that. The author switches between her own life and that of her family and although her own struggles are interesting, at times sad, and often relevant it is the lives of the sisters, all of whom had red hair, in the early part of the twentieth century which are the focus of the story. The author is looking at the different traumas which the family faced and especially at the women's role, often when they are forced to cope without male help.

The book is really readable - I read it quickly and easily. The book avoids being sentimental and is clear when something is definitely known and when it is surmised, however, this is a memoir and not a biography so the impression and over all story are most important. I did find parts of the book emotional but that was because I identified with the people and their situations and I never felt that I was being manipulated.

This is an excellent memoir and I really enjoyed reading it. The lives of other people, especially when presented in such a readable way, are always fascinating.

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