Monday, 11 November 2013

Scapegallows by Carol Birch

Margaret Catchpole was born in Suffolk in the late 1700’s where smuggling was rife and life itself was dangerous.  She is a decent hard-working girl;  a loyal servant in a respectable and wealthy family. However, Margaret is also friends with criminals and her duplicitous life will ultimately lead to her downfall.  For Margaret is eventually arrested and sentenced to death on two occasions before being reprieved and transported to Australia.

This is a fascinating fictional account of the real life Margaret Catchpole who was transported to Australia for theft and escaping from Ipswich Gaol.  There she made a life for herself before she died there in 1819.

Carol Birch has clearly researched this book very carefully and I admire this is an author.  However, it is her story telling skills which make this book such a worthwhile read.  There are times when the narrative gently unfolds like a 19th century classic.  It’s descriptive, atmospheric and detailed.  At other times, it’s an exciting action packed adventure story which kept me up late turning the pages.

The story focuses largely on Margaret’s life in Suffolk and the friendships and relationships that she formed during her life there and which are integral to the story in demonstrating how she came to progress from being a respectable girl to cavorting with criminals and her eventual sentences of execution and transportation.

I enjoyed this narrative of her life before imprisonment.  Margaret was a very likeable character and the author has done a good job in making her a well rounded character through investing the time to enable the reader to get to know Margaret and her world.

This is not the first tale of a good woman who comes to grief for the love of a man and I don’t suppose it will be the last but Margaret’s story has been written with empathy and understanding as well as objectivity and the author had been able to write this with both attributes side by side which make for a realistic fictionalised retelling of the story of Margaret Catchpole.

If you like historical fiction or books based on real life characters then I recommend this book.

ISBN:  978-1-84408-391-6

Published by:  Virago

Price (based on today's cost at   £7.19
I borrowed this book from my local library.

Total saved so far:  £43.76

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