A peaceful protest at Manchester’s St Peter’s Field is brought to a bloody end by a deadly cavalry charge of sabre swinging yeomanry. The violent culmination to months of fulminating antipathy between the working and ruling classes ultimately becomes a watershed moment in the fight of the disenfranchised to have a voice and meaning to their superficially inconsequential lives.
The music of life is seemingly silenced but out of the darkness that cloaks their funereal living and working conditions shines a beacon of hope embodied in the vitality and positivity of Nancy Kay. She emanates an ethereal glow that pulsates with a passion that gives belief to those around her that life will get better.
Carolyn O’Brien captures the incongruity of apparently hopeless lives coexisting with the privileged and affluent yet when you pick away at the distressing harshness of the former what is revealed are loving families able to rise above the detritus of their physical hardships.
But at it’s heart this is a story of love overpowering misfortune: a mother’s love for her son and an unrequited love that is both touching and tragic. The characterisation and context for these human relationships give them added poignance when compared to the social and sexual mobility of modern day.
Samson the former soldier, tasked with the responsibility of running his uncle’s mill, is an empathetic character with a social conscience ahead of his time. His experiences of death and an altruistic rather than materialistic approach to life lead him to focus on the inequities of his workforce rather than their continued exploitation for financial gain.
The author manages to intertwine a potent mix of socio-political discontent and frustrated sexual tension to give the story an edginess reflecting the gradual shift in the historic conformity of the time. This is a transitional period in the fight for the everyman to have a voice and through this polluted physical and political landscape O’Brien has created a story of personal strength outshining the corrupt ideals of a failing elite.
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