Day 1158: Mrs. Engels

Cover for Mrs. EngelsBest of Five!
Lately, I’ve realized that the novels I enjoy most have a strong narrative voice or sense of character. Mrs. Engels, the debut novel of Irish writer Gavin McCrea, is one of these. I had the fortune to read it as part of my Walter Scott Prize Project.

Lizzie Burns is the Irish mistress of Frederick Engels, long accepted as Mrs. Engels. She has a lot to put up with. Although Engels supports Karl Marx’s entire household, liberally, so that Marx can work on his book, he is very careful about what is spent on his own household. Further, Lizzy suspects him of yearning for her sister, Mary, who was his mistress before she died. And Lizzy is aware that Frederick is not faithful. Finally, he is completely devoted to a Communist revolution, so he often opens the house to his comrades or sends Lizzy on errands for the cause.

Mrs. Engels is a vivid imagining of Lizzy’s life, beginning in 1870 and looking backward to the past. A poor worker in Engels’s cloth mill, she leads a penurious life until Mary takes up with Frederick Engels. She becomes involved with the Fenian movement through her lover, Moss Óg. All in all, she’s a strong presence, funny and putting up with no nonsense. As she becomes more involved with the Marx family after she and Engels move to London, she begins to learn more about Frederick and what he will do for the cause, which to him means Marx.

This novel is beguiling, drawing me, at least, into a topic that I wasn’t much interested in. It tells Lizzy’s story with wit and creates a wonderfully realized setting and character.

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7 thoughts on “Day 1158: Mrs. Engels

  1. TJ @ MyBookStrings December 13, 2017 / 9:07 am

    I gave up on this because the ebook I got from the library had odd formatting. But now that you reminded me of this book, and hearing that you liked it, I will get the physical copy and try again.

    • whatmeread December 13, 2017 / 2:39 pm

      Yes, I think it’s worth it. I sometimes hate ebooks. I really have a hard time concentrating on them.

  2. Helen December 13, 2017 / 3:21 pm

    I enjoyed this too. The topic didn’t sound very interesting to me either, but I loved Lizzie’s strong narrative voice. I’ve linked to your review on my Walter Scott page. 🙂

    • whatmeread December 13, 2017 / 6:46 pm

      Thanks! I was looking forward to this one after reading your review.

  3. Naomi December 14, 2017 / 11:12 am

    I love when books can make you interested in things you didn’t think you were interested in!

  4. Davida Chazan December 21, 2017 / 8:26 am

    I know we’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, but I love the look of this, and who would have guessed that it was historical fiction. Sounds pretty interesting to me. Thanks!

    • whatmeread December 21, 2017 / 11:54 am

      Yes, it’s an unusual cover for a historical fiction novel. It looks more like a contemporary novel.

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