Wednesday 5 August 2020

Book Review: The Jam Factory Girls by Mary Wood

The Jam Factory Girls by Mary Wood Book Cover

AD* | The Jam Factory Girls is an uplifting and emotional novel of friendship set in the heart of pre-WWI London from bestselling author, Mary Wood.

Life for Elsie is difficult as she struggles to cope with her alcoholic mother. Caring for her siblings and working long hours at Swift's Jam Factory in London’s Bermondsey is exhausting. Thankfully her lifelong friendship with Dot helps to smooth over life’s rough edges.

When Elsie and Dot meet Millie Swift, they are nervous to be in the presence of the bosses’ daughter. Over time, they are surprised to feel so drawn to her, but should two East End girls be socializing in such circles?

When disaster strikes, it binds the women in ways they could never imagine. Long-held secrets are revealed that could change all their lives...

The Jam Factory Girls is a historical fiction novel set in London before the start of WW1. It's a fast-paced story with plenty going on, keeping you turning the pages until the very end. 

The main character is Elsie, a young woman struggling to get by and feed her family with a tough, poorly-paid job working in Swift's jam factory. Through a surprise turn of events, Elsie and her best friend Dot meet Millie, another young woman from a much more wealthy class of society than the circles where the two Cockney girls belong.

However, this is much more than just a story of unlikely friendship and the class divide. The Jam Factory Girls showcases the abject poverty that many Londoners experienced at this time. For many, living conditions were poor, money was scarce, and employment - when you could get it - meant long hours, pitiful pay, and, often, an unsafe working environment. With today's high health and safety standards, the conditions that Elsie, Dot, and their colleagues at Swift's endured each day seem almost unimaginable.

While the story itself is intriguing, the storytelling and language let the book down. So much happens throughout the course of the book that certain events feel rushed and out of sequence; no sooner has one major plot point happened then we are catapulted straight into another life-changing event for the girls. It's too fast-paced and as a result, the story struggles to contain the plot at times.

Similarly, although the world-building is generally good, the language used by the characters often feels forced and unnatural. Most of the characters are Cockney but shoddy attempts to shoehorn rhyming slang into their speech and massive overuse of the word "mate" means that they feel more like parodies than real-life Londoners. This is a real shame, as it detracts from the plot and draws you out of the story.

Overall, The Jam Factory Girls has good prospects but sadly, the book struggles to overcome its flaws and realise its full potential. 

Rating: 2 stars

The Jam Factory Girls is available to buy now.

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* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

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