The Echo of a Footfall by Patricia Scampion
Published: December 7, 2019 by Troubador Publishing
Synopsis: In 1926, having cared for her sick mother on her own for some years, 16 year old Mary gives birth to a baby boy in the Workhouse. Abandoned by her mother, unsupported by the child’s father, and behaving in ways the Workhouse finds difficult to manage, her baby is taken from her and she is sent to the local mental hospital (previously the lunatic asylum). Here, with the help of other inmates, and encouraged by an ambitious young woman seeking her vocation as a nurse, she begins a long process of discovery and development, learning to read and write, and then to cook and cater for the staff and patients in the institution that becomes her home.
Set against a backdrop of changes in attitude to, and treatments for, mental illness, and reflecting developments in post war societal structures, particularly those involving immigration from the Empire, Mary’s story spans over 50 years, as, discharged from the hospital, she continues to strive to find her identity, to understand where she belongs, and ultimately to find her baby. While the influence of the Great War on the lives of those who survived it echoes over the lives of the generations that follow, Mary yearns for a caring and tolerant community to support the family she finally creates for herself.
Review: ***I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Troubador!!***
This book took me on quite a ride, some of it good and some of it not so good. The premise is one that I found interesting. At the turn of the 20th century, the world was undergoing a big transformation with regard to mental health. There was still a lot of the old methods of locking people away because they didn’t fit into the societal mold. But the world was also beginning to wonder if that was the best way to deal with “deviant” people, or perhaps they should focus on the truly mentally ill with more compassion. This is where Mary comes in. She has a baby out of wedlock right in the middle of this period. Her baby is taken and she is sent to the asylum where she spends most of her life. This was the story of Mary finding her own family and creating her own community.
This book was a slow burn. I mean, really slow. Most of this book is just people having conversations. Sometimes that made things a bit boring and I started to skim because nothing was happening. The first part of the book that takes place in the asylum was the most boring. Not only was the majority of the story taking place in conversations but the limited actions outside of those conversations were also extremely repetitive. Wake up, go to breakfast, go to the yard for exercise, go to the day room, go to bed. For about 140 pages. It was dull and I found that I didn’t care much about what happened.
Once Mary is transitioned out of the asylum the story started to take off. Now it was getting interesting. She is a middle aged woman who suddenly has to figure out how to make money, make friends, buy clothes, all the normal adult things that one does. She doesn’t even know how a person is supposed to buy underwear because she’s been in an asylum since she was 16. That transition was hard for her as she both yearned for her freedom and was scared to relinquish the safety and security of asylum life. It was a compelling story and I enjoyed watching her make friends and create a community around her.
My biggest problem with the book was that the author seemed to want to connect everyone to Mary personally. By the end of the book pretty much every single person that Mary was close to had kept some secret from her about how they were related to her former life or her child’s life. And then in the epilogue the author told us who Mary’s child was. I was frustrated because it felt contrived. I already had emotions towards these people and their relationship with Mary, why did we have to have this extra layer that added no substance? The whole point of the book was that even though Mary never found her long lost son she created a family for herself, filled with love and trust. It should have been left there and I should have never known who her son was.
Overall, a compelling story about a tragic young woman who transform into a formidable grown woman. A story about a woman creating her own way, even when the world didn’t think she could. And that was a great book.