Book Review: The Low Road by Katherine Quarmby

The reader is drawn into this beautiful story from the first page. We travel together, with the two main characters, on their life- journey through to the final page. It is based on a true story which begins in 1813 in the Waveney valley in South Norfolk where the author grew up. The life-journey of the two central women, Hannah and Annie concludes in Australia where they had been transported to Botany Bay.  It is in Australia that they are reunited after many years apart.

This life journey, told with infinite compassion, at times heartbreaking and accurately and immaculately researched, details the lives that many women at the time had to endure. It is told through the words of Hannah who honours her mother’s last words; “write down what you cannot say out loud” to the final chapter when Hannah and Annie are together in Australia having been thrust apart for many years. Hannah says “I am finished now with the past: I have written it down and spoke it out loud”. 

These are two strong and determined characters; they represent the “forgotten voices of the past – convicts, servants, and the rural poor”. They endure life in the Refuge for the Destitute, where they first meet; the strong, deep, loving bond between them is sensitively dealt with.  They endured the humiliation in the courts of the Old Bailey. Whilst in Newgate prison in London, they are visited by a Mrs Fry and we are treated to a brief snap shot of the great Quaker reformer, Elizabeth Fry. The ‘ladies of Newgate ‘, Quakers, also visited the convict ship before Hannah is transported to Botany Bay.

Their story concludes in a tranquil, rural setting in New South Wales, where Hannah and Annie are at peace and find happiness after their turbulent life -journey. “Oh! ye’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road” the opening line from a song sung by the Scotch weavers. The Low Road is a clever and subtle reference to those who are parted in life’s journey. Will they ever meet again?

This is a compelling and exquisitely crafted story, immaculately researched and written with such love.

Published by Unbound ( January 2024) ISBN: 9781800182394

Leonora Davies,  Hampstead  Meeting. UK

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