Charity by Madeline Dewhurst

I was drawn to this book as I had heard so many good things about it on the grapevine. Also, I think now more than ever, it is important to shout about and support debut novels! I was intrigued by the title, too. How did this book relate to charity? Would it link to a theme, a character, or would it require further interpretation to work it all out?


Edith, an elderly widow with a large house in an Islington garden square, needs a carer. Lauren, a nail technician born in the East End, needs somewhere to live. A rent-free room in lieu of pay seems the obvious solution, even though the pair have nothing in common.

Or do they? Why is Lauren so fascinated by Edith’s childhood in colonial Kenya? Is Paul, the handsome lodger in the basement, the honest broker he appears? And how does Charity, a Kenyan girl brutally tortured during the Mau Mau rebellion, fit into the equation?

Capturing the spirited interplay between two women divided by class, generation and a deeper gulf from the past, and offering vivid flashbacks to 1950s East Africa, Madeline Dewhurst’s captivating debut spins a web of secrets and deceit where it’s not always obvious who is the spider and who is the fly.

My thoughts:

I have enjoyed so many aspects of this book. Firstly, I think it is really powerful and original that the author has included so much research and factual information about the colonialism and unrest that still existed in East Africa during the 1950s, through the use of precise and imaginative flashbacks. As someone who wrote about this very topic in my dissertation, but relating more to West Africa, I found this a really informative and engaging way to learn about the recent history of this area of the world.

I have loved witnessing the interactions between the characters, especially Edith and Lauren. Despite the sense of uneasiness and mistrust that surrounds all of the characters, I couldn’t help being able to identify with them in some ways. It is clear that Lauren has been affected by her background, is trying to find her place in the world, and better herself. Some of the shocking comments that Edith came out with remind me of the generational and societal changes we have seen in recent years, as I could imagine those very words leaving my Nan’s mouth, too.

I had some idea quite early on of the trajectory of the book, but I was really invested in it and needed to find out the exact details. It is clear from the beginning that this is not going to be the peaceful and ideal domestic scenario that Edith appears to be hoping for. This is a dramatic and suspenseful book that intends to teach the characters, and serves as a warning to us all, about the dangers of being selfish, and of passive inaction when faced with injustice.

A superb and thought-provoking thriller, I have found this book difficult to compare to any other writers of late as it provides a perfect blend of domestic drama, historical fiction and suspense. I would definitely recommend this book!


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