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Friday 24 September 2021

‘The Heart Stone’ by Judith Barrow

Published by Honno Welsh Women’s Press,
18 February 2021.
ISBN: 978-1-912905-27-0 (PB)

Cards on the table from the start: this heart-tugging and ultimately uplifting slice of history isn't really a crime novel. Crimes are committed - rape, domestic abuse, and that most monstrous of crimes against humanity, war; but in the early part of the twentieth century, they were a sad fact of everyday life.     

Judith Barrow has created an atmospheric story around them, with liberal sprinklings of hope, romance and the ultimate triumph of good to lighten the considerable load that ordinary women carried throughout the First World War and the years that followed. Jessie works in her mother's bakery, and her love for Arthur has just begun to blossom when war is declared. After a single night of passion she is left pregnant when he enlists, and branded slut and scarlet woman by the whole neighbourhood, but mainly by cruel and vicious Amos Morgan, her fragile mother's second husband.

The novel follows Jessie's progress through the war, supported by her suffragist friend Clara, and Arthur's mother who takes her in when her stepfather throws her into the street. The heart stone of the title refers to a secret she and Arthur shared, a stone in a wall close to where they made love the first and only time.

If it was a crime novel, it would be far from cosy. The arduous lot of working-class women is portrayed in achingly colourful detail, and the attitudes, living conditions and daily life of the time are woven into a background which must have been meticulously researched because it feels so real. The hell endured by the men in the trenches has been well documented; here, the women's lot back at home, as they wait for news of husbands, brothers and sons and try to maintain some form of life for them to return to is presented just as vividly.

Judith Barrow has a talent for pulling at the reader's heartstrings and often giving them a painful twist. There has to be light at the end of the tunnel, so you'll be glad to know it all ends happily for Jessie - but she has plenty to withstand along the way. It isn't crime fiction other than in the broadest sense. Instead, it's the story of a survivor, told with passion and a deep instinct for the world she inhabits.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Judith Barrow originally from Saddleworth, a group of villages on the edge of the Pennines, has lived in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for over forty years. She has an MA in Creative Writing with the University of Wales Trinity St David's College, Carmarthen. BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University, a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University. She is a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council and holds private one to one workshops on all genres.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

1 comment:

  1. With many thanks to both Lizzie and Lynne. Lynne, I am so grateful for this wonderful review - you've said all I could hope for from a reader.