Book cover

Opal Plumstead

Level 1

WILSON, Jacqueline

Doubleday 2014


Many Wilson fans think she is an expert on combining laughter and tears in usually in a tragic family situation. Take The Illustrated Mom, for example, it is seasoned with so much fun that the novel makes you think, laugh and cry all at the same time; certainly not your typical ‘doom and gloom’ literature for children.

In Wilson’s latest novel we encounter fiercely intelligent Opal Plumstead (14); she lives in Edwardian England (the story is set mostly in 1913/1914), has won a scholarship to a good school and dreams of going to university.

One day, however, her dad is arrested for embezzlement (and sentenced to a year of hard labour), and life changes for Opal and her family. Her mother feels sorry for herself, Opal’s sister Cassie moves in with a much older man and Opal has to start working at the Fairy Glen sweet factory. Not surprisingly, she finds life there difficult, but then the owner, Mrs Roberts, takes her under her wing and gives Opal a chance to use her artistic talents. She also introduces her to the suffragettes (making an albeit brief acquaintance with Emmeline Pankhurst), thus giving Opal scope for her own self-development.

One day Opal meets Morgan, Mrs Roberts' handsome son, who takes a liking to her and this is where Mrs Roberts' beneficial attitude starts waning. However, WWI is looming, and again there are major changes ahead…

Wilson gives us a very likeable heroine, who is rather opinionated (and maybe even a bit arrogant), which occasionally lands her in awkward situations, but all in all she is clever and charming.

On top of a great story, the reader learns quite a lot about the suffragette movement, the working conditions of the time, the poor welfare system, getting a slice of everyday life in a society on the brink of war.

This is Wilson’s 100th novel, and it is amazing how vigorous her writing still is. And, believe it or not, it is a fast read, so do not be daunted by the number of pages.

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Artwork © Nick Sharratt. Reproduced by permission of The Random House Group Ltd.

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