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The Colour of Milk Hardcover – 31 May 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 104 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Fig Tree (31 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1905490941
  • ISBN-13: 978-1905490943
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (104 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 672,450 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Haunting, distinctive voices . . . Mary's spare simple words paint brilliant pictures in the reader's mind . . . Nell Leyshon's imaginative powers are considerable (Independent on Sunday )

The Colour of Milk is an astounding read. Like the best bits of Hardy's Tess of the D'Ubervilles . . . Mary is one of the most compelling narrators I've ever encountered . . . packs a powerful punch . . . a very British gem (Stylist )

It is once in a blue moon that an author creates a voice quite as alive and as startling as Mary's. Nell Leyshon

deserves to be showered with awards for The Colour Of Milk

(Sunday Express )

Spare and beautifully crafted . . . compelling . . . Like a love letter to the power of words (Marie Claire )

A small tour de force - a wonderfully convincing voice, and a devastating story told with great skill and economy (Penelope Lively )

Brilliant, devastating and unforgettable (Easy Living )

Leyshon is a master of domestic suspense . . . Slender but compelling, the charm of Leyshon's novella is to be found as much in its spare, evocative style as in the moving candour of its narrator (Observer )

Leyshon's spare, dialogue-centred storytelling is lean and vivid . . . a small potted tragedy (The Times )

Leyshon's novel has a powerful impact . . . one is wholly submerged in the horrific events . . . skilfully captures the young girl's steadily growing confidence in her writing (Independent )

I loved it. The Colour of Milk is charming, Brontë-esque, compelling, special and hard to forget. I loved Mary's voice - so inspiring and likeable. Such a hopeful book (Marian Keyes )

An urgent tale of class division, poverty and the hardship of life as a poor woman in a patriarchal world . . . packs a punch (Psychologies )

Brontë-esque undertones . . . a disturbing statement on the social constraints faced by 19th-century women (Financial Times )

The economy of her prose heightens the power of this slender but vivid tale (Daily Mail )

The narrative is so direct, so guileless, that the reader feels completely drawn in, as homesick as Mary herself for the known world of her farmhouse . . . The story is shocking and haunting, turning suddenly and violently dark . . . Read it, in one sitting (Spectator )

Memorable . . . the ending will surprise you (Glamour )

From the Back Cover

Mary and her three sisters rise every day to backbreaking farm work that threatens to suppress their own awakening desires, whether it's Violet's pull toward womanhood or Beatrice's affinity for the Scriptures. But it's their father, whose anger is unleashed at the slightest provocation, who stands to deliver the most harm. Only Mary, fierce of tongue and a spitfire since birth, dares to stand up to him. When he sends her to work for the local vicar and his invalid wife in their house on the hill, he deals her the only blow she may not survive.

Within walking distance of her own family farm, the vicarage is a world away a curious, unsettling place unlike any she has known. Teeming with the sexuality of the vicar's young son and the manipulations of another servant, it is also a place of books and learning a source of endless joy. Yet as young Mary soon discovers, such precious knowledge comes with a devastating price as it is made gradually clear once she begins the task of telling her own story.

Reminiscent of Alias Grace in the exploration of the power dynamics between servants and those they serve and The Color Purple's Celie, The Colour of Milk is a quietly devastating tour de force that reminds us that knowledge can destroy even as it empowers." --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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By Brett H TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 22 May 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a tiny book which not only is a mere 170 pages or thereabouts but also measures only some six inches by four inches. I read through it in a couple of hours as many will. However, for all that it was an original and well thought out tale written in her own words in 1831 by Mary.

Mary is from an extremely humble background. Her family are farmers, and at the age of 14 Mary works from dawn to dusk under the rather tyrannical direction of her father , as do her three sisters. She has never been educated, has one set of clothing and shares a bed with one of her sisters. However, when her father comes to an arrangement with the local vicar for Mary to help with looking after his ailing wife, Mary is initially reluctant as this job is so far removed from what she is used to.

Despite the disadvantages of her birth, Mary is a very feisty young lady, who speaks her own mind and, as she says herself, is incapable of lying. When there is a possibility of learning to read and write she is extremely enthusiastic. However, eventually she feels obliged to use her newly obtained skills to write her story and explain what has happened and how she has found herself in her current situation. As it is written in her words, there is very little in the way of punctuation, apart from splitting the story into sentences and paragraphs. That apart there are no capital letters, commas etc. However, this adds to the atmosphere and does not make the narrative at all difficult to read.

This is a very unusual book, but the presentation works well and Mary herself is an interesting and appealing character. Short it may be, but it is nonetheless a worthwhile read.
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Mary is fourteen years old when her story begins in 1830; she is one of four sisters who live on a farm with their brutal father and their over-worked mother. Mary has, she tells us, hair the colour of milk and, we learn from her narrative, she would be pretty if it were not for her deformed leg. At the outset of her story, we learn that Mary makes the best of her hard life; she works on the farm, toiling in the fields, milking the cows, helping her mother with the housework and the cheese-making, and she enjoys spending time with her bedridden grandfather, who is a much kinder and more understanding man than Mary's father.

When the local vicar's wife becomes ill and additional help is needed at the vicarage, Mary's father arranges for her to live and work at the vicarage until she is no longer needed. Although Mary has no wish to leave the farm, she knows it is useless arguing with her father, who will only answer with physical violence, so she makes the best of the situation and, although she suffers from homesickness and misses her grandfather, she gets on with her lot in life at the vicarage. Fortunately the vicar takes a liking to Mary and her honest outspokeness, as does his ailing wife, and when the vicar decides he will teach Mary to read and write, Mary begins to realise that if she wants to become literate, she will need to stay at the vicarage for longer than she initially thought. But then something shocking happens which changes everything for everyone involved, and it is here that the reader learns of the very high price that Mary must pay for her education - but I shall leave the details for prospective readers to discover.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Okay, I get books for reviewing, sometimes you are lucky, you get ones that you wanted anyway, other times you see books that you know you should quite like, or on subjects you are interested in. But at times something just makes you get something, with no idea what it will be like. That is what happened with this, it was the title that caught my attention. I had never even heard of Nell Leyshon before, or that she had already written a few other books.

This book will not necessarily be everyone's idea of a good read, and I feel I should point out that although you can't tell by the title, or the blurb, this is not a children's book, due to the nature of the subject matter this is about.

The story takes place in 1830-31 and is narrated by Mary herself. Mary starts off in this book as fourteen, but is fifteen by the end, and it is worth remembering that whilst you read the tale. She is the youngest of four daughters, her parents have no sons, and they all live in a small farm house with the grandad. Their father is a violent man, and having all daughters to help with the farm work is obviously not an ideal situation. When he is offered pay to send Mary to the vicarage to help as a maid and look after the lady of the house, he jumps at the idea.

The forthright Mary is thus sent on her way, and she soon finds things very different to working in the fields each day. She also eventually comes to be taught reading and writing by the vicar, but at a price. As we follow Mary's tale of what that price is and the subsequent actions we are held spellbound.
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