Never Look Back by Lesley Pearse

I was told to read this by my aunty as she said it brought her to tears. I would have read it anyway as I am a huge fan of Lesley Pearse. She is such a talented writer. Where as many novels are just a snapshot of a particular event in a person's life. She follows her characters whole lives in most cases. This book is about Matilda and her life's journey from the poverty of the slums in London, to making her fortune in America. Like most of her books the protagonist's story is one of struggle and survival.
When you read this book, you feel every minute of the journey the character takes. Pearse had me on tenterhooks the entire way through despite how long it was. The imagery and writing is so vivid and it evokes such reactions in the reader it's like the author has a time machine. I am starting to think that she has hidden one somewhere and uses it frequently as the scrupulous attention to detail and the specifics that she goes into is mesmerising. Through this she ensures that the reader is invested in Matty's life and wants to know her story because it is so life like and relatable. The tiny details that she writes to build the world is so visual it sends us back in time and enhances the story. It is amazing the way she weaves such a compelling story from historical events without ostracising the reader with too much history and facts.
What I loved about this book is that Pearse has thoroughly examined the world that she is depicting from every angle. She takes topics still relevant today like poverty and the role of women and really makes us consider them. It is like she is holding a debate throughout the book using her characters to represent all the different opinions and attitudes towards poverty. Matty is a social conscience. She judges the attitudes of whoever is around her towards the poor. Her wonderings about them are usually a reflection on their views and whether they are right or wrong. As Matty is a good person who is always trying to help the poor, having been poor herself, it seems that she is a good person to judge whether a person has a good or bad attitude towards poverty. She uses Matty to parallel what a good person can do and most people did do.
Poverty is still rife today and the intense and gripping depictions of poverty and suffering in the book rip away at the reader's heart strings and social conscience. Hunger, prostitution, diseases, slavery these are all graphically described in the book and it only highlights the suffering of those in poverty. It makes you wonder how different are the lives of the modern day sufferers of poverty. Whilst slavery was not the key issue in the book, the warring opinions on slavery between the North and South of America was intriguing. The conflict this debate caused was a fascinating part of the book, especially as we got to see how it affected people not directly involved.
I loved all the characters in this book, even just minimal characters like the miners added such realism and depth to the novel and the debate on poverty. There are such a diverse range of characters with such interesting backgrounds that were a pleasure to get to know. Especially Giles, he is the epitome of goodness and has the determination we all should have to help those less fortunate. The characters in the book are like a cross section of society. Giles the exceptional defender of the poor. Lily who was so sympathetic and considered a good compassionate woman, but only for people of good hygiene, particular in who she thought should be helped.
This book did make me cry, which I very rarely do when reading. But there is a lot of loss in this book. It was like a roller-coaster at times, one minute everything is great and then Matty loses someone close to her. The characters that die in this novel are so well rounded and fleshed out that they just jump off the page and this makes the loss of them painful to the reader, well it did for me. I was brought to tears each time one of these vivid and interesting characters died. Lesley Pearse has such an amazing writing style that so I am so invested and in love with her characters. I found for me that it made her story more realistic because it mirrored reality in that people come in and out of your life throughout it. Not necessarily dying of cholera but you lose touch or move away. But the message from the book is that each person that enters your life does so for a reason and they also leave it for a reason. It is even spelled out in the book, Matty acknowledges that she met Giles and fell in love with him but he then leads her to James, without him she would never have met James.
This really was a pleasure to read. The history was interesting and the social criticisms and comments were thought provoking. It shows the reader an example of what life was like in the particular time and place the novel is set in. Although this book shows us how far we have come as a society, there are many themes and social issues that mirror those we face today. I always love getting to know the strong and powerful women that this author creates. I loved each word and would recommend this to everyone.