In Sarah Valentine, No Great Expectations: Part 2, Philip Valentine Coates continues his ambitious trilogy recounting the difficult and at-times tragic 19th-century life of his great-great-grandmother.
In this volume, Sarah Valentine is now 18 and remains at the workhouse in East London where she spent much of her adolescence. In 1839, her acquaintance Freddy Linford finds her there and their relationship blossoms. He arranges for her to work at a tailor job and proposes. She accepts, only to renege after he forces himself on her twice. After bearing the son that results from their union, she reluctantly agrees to allow Freddy’s parents to raise the child and returns to the workhouse, leaving intermittently when employment opportunities arise.
Coates ably describes the harsh conditions of poverty and the country’s political climate and class stratification. His attention to detail is often interesting, such as when he explains that cooks used egg shells to improve the clarity of coffee. But it is also frequently cumbersome, as when he leads one street by street through various neighborhoods.
The author liberally imagines the players’ thoughts and dialogue, but despite this, readers may wish for a more engaging narrative arc. Although Sarah provides a strong heroine, Coates tends to provide too many mundane details of daily life while short-changing more concerning issues. Not until the last chapter does Coates revisit significant questions, such as whether Sarah remains at peace with her choice to give up her child or whether her missing sister Charlotte might one day reappear.
By supplying introductory material, Coates makes this work accessible to those new to the series. As such, this book can be read as a standalone work that will satisfy casual readers, while more ardent fans will await the final installation.
Faults aside, Coates provides an informative lens through which to observe the troubled life of an impoverished young woman in Victorian England. Those interested in the period will find moments to appreciate.
Also available in hardcover.