This epic, moving and awe-inspiring work of fiction is perhaps the greatest evidence of Lesley Pearse' commitment to extensive research and attention to detail.
It tells in incredible detail the ENTIRE life story of a London-born woman named Matilda Jennings. Her life begins in dire poverty and gradually progresses through an incredible amount of experiences, from moving to America, to working with the poor, business ventures, extensive travelling, romance, childbirth, and many, many others.
This book is particularly valuable because of it's descriptions of poverty in nineteenth century London, New York and San Francisco. It describes vividly the many afflictions of the poor: illness, starvation, exploitation and horrendous living conditions. Some of the descriptions here of the personal hygiene and lack of sanitation in the nineteenth century are truly mind-boggling, but this book is an excellent exploration of just how bad life was less than 200 years ago.
The extremely high mortality rate of that era is also touched upon frequently, as Matilda has person after person torn cruelly from her life. These chapters reduced me to tears, but the descriptions of Matilda putting on a brave face and continuing on with her life, in the spirit of strength and courage, was truly inspiring. This is an undoubtedly powerful and well-crafted story.
The theme of female emancipation is also explored, and if there's a more inspiring figure of female independence and strength in contemporary fiction than Matilda Jennings, I have yet to encounter her. With unbelievable guts, the lead character of this novel shows an incredible amount of strength, instinct, dignity, resourcefulness and determination to succeed at so much more than being a wife and Mother. Perhaps the character is fictional, but in theory, any woman should be able to succeed as Matilda does in this story, if only they learn how to utilise the strength and determination which every woman undoubtedly has.
This book is superbly-written, engaging enough to keep my attention for hours and hours on end, without stopping reading. Despite it's huge length, I found myself finishing it in less than three or four days. It's characters are well-crafted, strong and interesting. Anticipation for the next event in Matilda's remarkable life kept me reading with keenness. The historical research is considerable and the attention to detail is impressive.
I cannot reccommend this book strongly enough. Even if you don't enjoy contemporary fiction which is has a generally romantic theme, this book can be enjoyed for it's important historical context and it's incredibly vivid depiction of the grimness of life in the nineteenth century. As a study of poverty and courage, 'Never Look Back' is valuable and poignant, firmly establishing Lesley Pearse as a writer of great talent and integrity.