“I have seen my name become notorious. Lotta Rae. The talk of London… But was there truth? Was there justice?“
Siobhan MacGowan ~ The Trial of Lotta Rae
Lotta Rae is a young working-class woman who is viciously attacked by a wealthy gentleman. Lotta’s family are firm believers in justice, so Lotta makes the brave decision to testify in court against her attacker. The guardians of justice support her, or so it seems.
William Linden is a barrister about to lose everything. He is failing to live up to his father’s formidable reputation and if he loses one more case, how will he house, clothe and feed his wife and young son?
Both Lotta and William have decisions to make that will change the course of their lives and the lives of everyone around them for generations to come.
Notorious after her trial and unable to return to the life she had before her attack, Lotta’s quest for her own form of justice takes her from the streets of Spitalfields to a Soho brothel, into the heart of the Suffragette movement, to an unimaginable place. One she could never have foreseen.
As a young law student 15 years ago, the case of R v R (1991) is one I’ll never forget. I was incensed that in my lifetime, it had been legal for a man to rape his wife. Reading The Trial of Lotta Rae brought back that same dismay I’d felt in the lecture theatre and I was so angry about the treatment of this poor girl who believed in justice.
But Lotta’s story is a tragic one. I adored it, but it looks at very heavy topics and there are hardly any moments that could be seen as happy.
MacGowan’s writing is so emotive and provocative, that at times I wasn’t sure if my tears were of rage or sadness. But this is what makes it so engrossing – we are Lotta, we are thousands of women throughout history who were denied justice simply by being deemed less worthy than rich men. While we have come such a long way in those 100 years, current events show us that in many countries, women are still seen as inferior to men.
It’s a powerful image, but I would have liked it to be a little more empowering – we walk around London with suffragettes, war widows and prostitutes, but never get to see any change. It is hinted at throughout the book and we know it’s coming, but the timeline stops short of any key social reform.
Characters are well-drawn and relatable. Linden is despicable. At the beginning we sympathise with his plight, as he is doing right by his family, but as time goes by, our hatred grows and we long for his comeuppance, seeing him as almost worse than the rapist. I’ve not hated anyone quite as much for a long time!
Lotta may start off as a naïve girl, but over time she becomes an independent woman. Her desire for revenge is justified, but this subsides; while she does not forgive, she chooses to focus on what’s important. Despite losing everything, Linden continues to seek Lotta’s downfall.
The timeline is perhaps too long, as the pace feels much slower towards the end, compared to the anticipation in the majority of the book. The ending is not satisfactory in the slightest, yet this is the author’s choice, to show us that justice is not always served and that life is still not fair. A thought-provoking debut that will stay with readers long after the last bell has chimed.
Thank you to Welbeck Books for my proof copy. Opinions my own.
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