The Colour of Milk, by Nell Leyshon.
i am stopping now for i need to lay down and rest. there is much to tell for you need to know it all and then you will understand. my arm aches. my hand has the cramps. if i close my eyes i can go back and remember everything. - from The Colour of Milk -
Mary is fourteen, born with a crippled leg on a farm in England in the early part of the nineteenth century. When her story opens, the year is 1831. Mary and her three sisters are growing up under the iron hand of their brutal father. They slave in the fields all day, a thankless and endless job. It is Mary who stands up to her father's rage, who speaks her mind, who cares deeply about her disabled grandfather who lives in the apple room. When Mary's father sends her to live with a local vicar and his ill wife, Mary goes but not without protest. She now works as a housemaid and her wages go to her father. She sleeps in a bed beneath the eaves, rises early each day, and observes the new world of the vicarage which surprisingly offers her a chance to learn to read and write. But the joy of books comes with a price -- one which will change Mary forever.
The Colour of Milk is written in the brave voice of Mary whose courage, humor, and spunk shine through her awkward sentences. Mary's life is one of toil, yet she finds the beauty in fields and animals, the changing colors of the sky, and the simplicity of her life. She knows that life should be more, but she does not know how to label her dreams.
i watched as the sky changed its colours and the sun climbed upwards. when i stood up i could see the farm and the shape of the house and the lane and the fields. what was it i would dream if i could dream something and it would come true? what was it i would say if anyone ever asked me? i didn't know. i knew i had dreams but i didn't know what they were. - from The Colour of Milk -
The last thing Mary expects from life is the gift of reading and writing. The pain of being torn from her beloved grandfather and sisters and mother is eased initially by the simple joy of learning.
i looked along the lines till i found three of them. the the the. i closed the book and leaned over and blew out the candle. the smell of the taper was in the room. an owl called outside the window. - from The Colour of Milk -
As Mary's words took me deeper into her life, I found myself feeling uneasy. It was clear she was writing retrospectively and as the end of her story grew near it began to vibrate with apprehension. And when the ending did come, it made me gasp.
I cannot say more about this book without ruining it for the reader. Leyshon's writing is powerful, incredibly moving, and filled with a grace that many authors are not able to find in their prose. This is a penetrating and compelling look into the life of one young girl during a time in history when women were considered property and had no real rights. It is shocking, empathetic and provocative.
When I turned the final page of this slim novel, I had to sit for awhile allowing the power of Mary's words to wash over me as tears welled in my eyes. I would not be surprised to see The Colour of Milk on the prize lists this year, but even if it is not recognized as the great literature that I think it is, it will certainly be on my list of best books read in 2013.
Highly, highly recommended.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ : Five stars out of five.
FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".