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Blog Tour: The Hidden Child by Louise Fein

Published: September 2nd, 2021
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance Novel, Domestic Fiction
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this extraordinary piece of historical fiction. Thank you to Head of Zeus for the invitation to take part in the blog tour and the gifted limited edition proof copy of the book.

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SYNOPSIS:

From the outside, Eleanor and Edward Hamilton have the perfect life, but they’re harbouring a secret that threatens to fracture their entire world.

London, 1929.

Eleanor Hamilton is a dutiful mother, a caring sister and an adoring wife to a celebrated war hero. Her husband, Edward, is a pioneer in the eugenics movement. The Hamiltons are on the social rise, and it looks as though their future is bright.

When Mabel, their young daughter, begins to develop debilitating seizures, they have to face an uncomfortable truth: Mabel has epilepsy – one of the ‘undesirable’ conditions that Edward campaigns against.

Forced to hide their daughter away so as to not jeopardise Edward’s life’s work, the couple must confront the truth of their past – and the secrets that have been buried.

Will Eleanor and Edward be able to fight for their family? Or will the truth destroy them?

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MY REVIEW:

A perfect family is fractured and torn apart when illness invades their lives and not only tests their strength, but makes them question their core beliefs and values in this extraordinary piece of historical fiction. 

Powerful, moving, thought-provoking and illuminating, this book will leave you a different person to the one who began reading. It will break your heart, make you question humanity, and then give you back your hope. Exquisitely crafted, the story is written with heart and compassion, somehow finding beauty in the most ugly of subjects. I won’t pretend this isn’t hard to read in places; characters talk about ideals that are reprehensible, make plans that sickened me and spoke vile words about some of the most vulnerable members of our society, and that is hard to digest. But these things are taken from history. And it is important to remember, recognise and learn from them. It is also a reminder that these things aren’t black and white, but nuanced, and that the best stories and lessons in life are sometimes found in the shades of grey. 

The Hidden Child explores a part of British history that has been swept under the rug for decades. When we think of eugenics most of us will think of it in the context of Nazi Germany and the horrors of the Holocaust. But through this story, which begins eleven years before the start of WW2, the author strips bare the walls of secrecy to highlight our own country’s history with the Eugenics Movement. Something I was completely ignorant of before reading this book. I had no idea that the movement was born in England at the end of the nineteenth century, or how widespread it was in the beginning of the 1900s. It felt particularly poignant for me to be reading this on September 3rd, the 82nd anniversary of the beginning of WW2. To read as characters, some of whom were real people in history, discussing these ideas like they were saving the human race was stomach-churning and sobering. This was ableism at its peak and was terrifying to read, particularly as someone who would have then been dismissed as an ‘undesirable’. The so-called treatments Mabel is subjected to are barbaric and were the hardest scenes for me to read. It made me so grateful for how far we have come in our treatment of epilepsy and mental illness in the past hundred years and serves as a potent reminder that it is not solely monsters who are responsible for the most awful and shocking times in history, but ordinary, and often admired, people too. 

Edward and Eleanor Hamilton lived a charmed life. They are a wealthy, well respected couple with everything going for them. But this begins to fall apart when their five-year-old daughter Mabel begins to suffer fits. Staunch supporters of the Eugenics Movement, this, and her subsequent Epilepsy diagnosis, rocks their world. How can their perfect, healthy daughter be one of the ‘undesirables’ they campaign against? Instinctively, they hide Mabel away and keep her condition secret. This unfolding nightmare takes them on a harrowing and heart-wrenching journey of self discovery. One filled with privilege, moral superiority, uncomfortable truths, reprehensible actions and regret. As they battle her condition and try to keep their lives from falling apart, they find themselves questioning everything they thought they knew to be true. Could what they believed about those who are ‘defective’ be wrong? 

Despite their awful beliefs, it is impossible not to feel empathy for this couple. For me, this is a real testimony to the skill of the author’s writing, as she manages to convey both disgust at their beliefs and some of their actions, and empathy as they watch their daughter suffer and attempt to make sense of what is happening. You feel their utter disbelief and devastation at her diagnosis, their heartbreak as they do what they believe is right. Through their backstories we come to understand how they were drawn to eugenics, though Edward’s past is shrouded in shadows that take much longer to come to light. And by giving them both a voice, the author allows the reader a glimpse into the thoughts and feelings they keep to themselves, revealing a fuller picture and giving us a greater understanding of them.

There is an increasing sense of claustrophobia as the secrets , isolation and fear close in around not only Eleanor and Edward, but young Mabel too.  We never get the story from her perspective, instead the author takes a much more striking, and creative route, giving a voice and persona to the illness itself. This was my favourite element of the book. As someone with multiple chronic illnesses, I related to this on a very personal level. Illnesses do feel like they have their own personalities and unique voices that only you can hear. The author eloquently conveys this through Epilepsy’s enlightening and evocative chapters. It was a powerful and moving master stroke that really makes the book stand out. 

This was my first foray into reading this author’s books and has immediately secured her a place on my must-read list and that of authors I recommend everybody read. The book is meticulously researched and brimming with emotion. I couldn’t put it down. A masterful storyteller, she has merged her own personal knowledge and experience with fiction and historical fact to create a book that is simply breathtaking.

Affecting, immersive, atmospheric and compelling, The Hidden Child is an absolute triumph. A story of love, loss, hope and redemption, it is a  reminder that we must stand up against prejudice and those who promote it. Everyone needs to read this book, including the unmissable author’s note at the end. I would love to see this book added to school reading lists so that the next generation can heed its warnings and learn the lessons on its pages.

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

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MEET THE AUTHOR:

Louise writes twentieth century historical fiction, based around unheard voices, or from unusual perspectives.

Her debut novel, PEOPLE LIKE US (entitled DAUGHTER OF THE REICH in the US/Canada edition) and first published in 2020 into 13 territories, is set in 1930’s Leipzig, seen through the eyes of a young girl, Hetty, brainwashed into believing the Nazi dream, until that is, she encounters Walter, a Jew. The book was shortlisted for the RSL Christopher Bland Prize 2021 and the RNA Historical Novel of the Year Award, 2021.

Louise’s second novel, THE HIDDEN CHILD, will be published in the UK in September 2021 and the US and Canada in October 2021, and is the story of Edward and Eleanor, firm believers in the widely held pseudo-science of Eugenics, who firmly believe in genetic superiority. Their world is shattered, however, when their young daughter, Mabel, develops debilitating seizures.

Louise lives in Surrey with her husband, children, two naughty cats and small dog Bonnie, who is the best writing companion she could ask for. Always at her side when she writes and listens most patiently when Louise needs to talk through a tricky plot problem. She is currently working on her third novel. 

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BUY THE BOOK:

Waterstones* | Bookshop.org*| Amazon |Google Books |Apple Books | Kobo
*These are affiliate links

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Please check out the reviews from the other bloggers taking part in the tour.

Thanks for reading Bibliophiles😊 Emma xxx

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