South Kensington, London, 1953. Mrs Harriet Wallis is found guilty of the murder of her husband, Cecil. It is the year of the Coronation and, as a new Queen ascends the throne, Mrs Wallis will become the second-last woman in England to be hanged. One year earlier, and Harriet's life is thrown into turmoil by the reappearance of a man she did not expect to ever see again. A new nanny, Jean Corbett, arrives at the Wallis household - a young woman still traumatised by the devastating loss of her entire family during the War. ...
South Kensington, London, 1953. Mrs Harriet Wallis is found guilty of the murder of her husband, Cecil. It is the year of the Coronation and, as a new Queen ascends the throne, Mrs Wallis will become the second-last woman in England to be hanged. One year earlier, and Harriet's life is thrown into turmoil by the reappearance of a man she did not expect to ever see again. A new nanny, Jean Corbett, arrives at the Wallis household - a young woman still traumatised by the devastating loss of her entire family during the War. And two policemen come to the house investigating a theft at Mr Wallis's shipping firm. Thus, a chain of events is set in place, and when Mr Wallis makes the momentous decision to purchase a television set on which to watch the Coronation, his and Harriet's fates are sealed. Set in a post-war period when a well-to-do British family's existence - both outside and inside the home - is ruled by a strict set of conventions, The Second-Last Woman in England explores the depth of emotions that are always there in every family but rarely surface. And what happens when they do. 'Joel is particularly good at depicting the kind of small, casual cruelties family members can inflict on one another' Sydney Morning Herald 'As well as being able to create a distinct sense of place . Maggie Joel has a wicked sense of humour' The Age
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The Second last Woman in England is a great title and when you look closer and see that it means the second last woman to be executed in England it is even more intriguing . I was a child in England myself in the 1950?s when this novel was set, and while I don?t remember much, I do recall the feel of the propriety and the orderliness of everyday as life as caught so well by TSLWIE. And I do remember the Coronation which figures so largely . I don?t think it can be classified as a spoiler if I say that it is on Coronation Day that the killing takes place as this is stated in the Prologue anyway. We know that Mrs Harriet Wallis killed her husband Mr Cecil Wallis and that it was perhaps the ?breathtakingly unpatriotic timing of Mrs Wallis?s crime that caused the jury to take mere 45 minutes to find her guilty?. Why she did it , in the best traditions of crime novels, is not revealed until the last pages, in fact, if I have a criticism of the book it is that too much is revealed in the last pages. I would, I think, have liked it better had I been told a little more just a little earlier so I could have savoured the final denouements a bit more . But that is a minor criticism really. The key motif of the book is, I think, duty, or at least duty allied to love and while that sounds rather bland and stuffy, in this novel it really is not. What is, you wonder, behind the relationship between Mrs Wallis and her younger brother ? why does she seem so desperate for him to be accepted, even to the detriment of her own marriage? And why does Nanny Corbett seem to need this household, where the children patently don?t need her? Is Mr Wallis the (albeit stuffed-shirt) paragon he seems? I have seen a review in which it is said too much time and writing was devoted to minor characters, and I cannot agree with that, in fact, I don?t believe there is one minor character whose portrayal does not, in some way add to the general ambience of duty , love (or its absence) and class relations in changing times.
One slight pickiness I have is the presence of a couple of anachronisms. ?One-off? was not a term in use in the 50?s and no upper middle class boy, no matter how daring would ever have said ?how?s it hanging ?? to his father , even if the phrase had been coined then , which it hadn?t. ?Dolly bird? was not coined till the 60?s and drawer, as in desk drawer is not spelled draw. All in all, a very good read indeed and I shall most certainly look for titles by Maggie Joel again
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