Folly, by Marthe Jocelyn
Wendy Lamb Books – May 11, 2010 – Hardcover– 256 pages
Source: Personal Copy
Mary Finn’s life slowly changes with the death of her mother. At first her father relies on 13-year-old Mary to cook, clean and raise her brothers and sister, but all bets are off when he marries a woman whom Mary doesn’t like and refers to as “that Margaret Huckle”; the feeling is mutual. Her stepmother soon contrives to get her work in a household where for a short time she can earn some money for the family. But once Mary is out in the world circumstances take her further away from her family and closer to love, and finally heartbreak.
I have never really been a cover girl, but as I was out perusing the shelves and trying to make it through my little book excursion without picking up anything new, I saw Folly, and I was just so curious about this girl and what her story might be. A quick peek at the jacket copy confirmed my suspicions that this was a historical fiction/young adult novel, and at that point it was a done deal. I had to have it. And needless to say, I did NOT escape with any less than 6 books. Anyway.
I am glad that my impulse behavior led me to this book because I loved Mary’s journey from simple country girl to a scullery maid in a wealthy household. The novel, which has a bit of a mystery element around it, alternates between four perspectives in two different time periods. There is Mary and another maid, Eliza, and their points of view in the years surrounding 1877, alternating with chapters from James and Oliver who reside in The Foundling Hospital in 1884. The reader doesn’t know at first how the characters and the time periods connect with each other, but it is something that is easily figured before you have gotten halfway through. I don’t think the author intended for it to be a secret and it in no way diminishes the rest of the unfolding, in fact it increases the tension of the novel since you want to know how it all ends.
Jocelyn’s Folly is rich in period details, and I liked getting to know the routines at the Foundling Hospital, where James is undergoing his training and education and where Oliver teaches. His relationship with Mama Peevey and Oliver are touching and Jocelyn excels at capturing the attitude, behavior and thoughts of the young boy. James is a list maker, like me, so I really enjoyed reading his lists through the story. Mary’s responsibilities in the household put her in the sights of the lascivious Mr. Bates and in trouble with Eliza who loves him. Navigation within this world can be treacherous, and it is even more so when Mary meets Caden Tucker, the young soldier to whom she gives her heart.
I really loved these characters, well most of them anyway – some were rotten, and was touched by their dilemmas, their ups and downs. Jocelyn’s writing is so clear and accesible, while she she paints such a vivid portrait of 19th century London and the harsh lives that are being led. I could not turn away. Historical fiction lovers of this place and period should love this one. The story is vivid and emotional, and though a little sad I was captivated throughout.
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