Review: What Empty Things Are These

In this debut novel by Judy Crozier, set in Victorian London, a woman finds her life opening up with possibilities after her husband falls seriously ill and drifts towards death.

Adelaide has always done what was expected of her. After a brief time as a debutante she is abruptly married off to George, a friend of her father’s. He is much older, authoritarian and lacking in any warmth.

In her loneliness she forms a friendship with Sobriety, a maid in the household. George’s illness necessitates decisions and engagement with the world and gradually Adelaide becomes cognisant of her own strengths and talents. She takes up writing and is paid for it, and she and Sobriety become embroiled in a police case involving a street urchin, a baby and a swindler. Adelaide realises her own plight, that of Sobriety and the underclass of people who inhabit the city. Most importantly, she questions the limitations placed on women.

One of the ideas raised in the book is the role of ignorance in oppression and tyranny. That once the oppressed are aware of their unjust situation, there is more chance of them liberating themselves.

This is an astute book, which tells a story of personal growth but also made me think about power and inequality. Recommended reading.

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