Review: Charity by Madeline Dewhurst (2021) #CharityTheNovel @MDewhurst3 @EyeAndLightning @damppebbles #damppebblesbts

Charity by Madeline Dewhurst


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.


I love historical fiction, and even more so when the ripples of past actions reverberate into the present day. This debut novel intrigued me from its back cover description, and I am very grateful to the author, publisher and Emma at Damp Pebbles for my spot on the tour and for providing me with a digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

This is a beautifully constructed book which layers up past and present events in a careful and artful way, adding to our understanding of the characters little by little until eventually all is revealed. I won’t say too much about the plot as I don’t want to give anything away, but as the connections between the characters become clear, the murky questions of historical guilt, complicity, wilful ignorance and refusal to acknowledge the past all drift to the surface, as if Dewhurst is sifting through the silt of lies to uncover the truth.

The brutal and deeply distressing treatment of Kenyan prisoners held by the British under the pretext of quashing the Mau Mau rebellion was not something I knew much about, and these sections were the most impactful for me. Charity’s desperate situation is heart-breaking and rage-inducing, not to mention very traumatic to read at times. The contrast between these sections and the more modern storyline of Lauren, a beauty student, moving in with the elderly Edith in her posh London house, and the often comic scenes that the latter situation produces, shows the tonal range of this book, which crosses not only geographical but also genre boundaries. This book is many things at once: a powerful historical novel, a situational comedy, a mystery, a ghost story, and many other things besides.

What is most impressive is how Dewhurst manages to balance the many strands and ‘modes’ of the story, weaving a complex tapestry that shows enormous skill, especially considering this is a debut novel. It’s a strikingly original book, bold in its unflinching expose of the horrors of colonial rule and its refusal to sweep the past under the carpet. The complexities of the interplay between the modern day characters are nuanced and mutable; as the situation in the black-doored house reaches its boiling point, it is hard to know where our true sympathies should lie.

I really enjoyed this book, it kept me on my toes, never quite knowing where it was going to lead me next, but always happy to follow along. It is a pacy read, complex and puzzling without being overly confusing, and it illuminates the long-lasting traumas of colonial brutality in a fresh, original way. I am really looking forward to reading more of Madeline Dewhurst’s work in the future.

About the Author

Madeline Dewhurst studied English at Queen’s University Belfast and went on to complete an MA in Research and a PhD at Queen Mary, University of London. She also has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway.  She is an academic in English and Creative Writing at the Open University.

Her previous writing includes fiction, journalism and drama. Charity, which was longlisted for the Bath Novel Award, is her first novel.

She now lives in Kent.

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Charity by Madeline Dewhurst is published by Lighning Books in digital and paperback formats and was released on 26th April 2021.


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