Silvertown is the story of Melanie McGrath's grandparents, Jenny and Len Page. It's one of those extraordinary stories of everyday life in the East End of London around the turn of the century. These are people who struggled every day of their lives, and knew no different. People who lived in London but never visited the Tower of London or St Paul's Cathedral.
McGrath tells this story with candor, she is sympathetic but honest about her subjects. The lives her grandparents led are the same lives everyone else around them led. They both grew up in poor households, Jenny wishing to marry to get from under her father's roof and maintain her own household instead of her parent's. McGrath says this about Jenny's husband:
Nor was she one of his. Jenny and Len have two children who are removed to the countryside during the war. They stay there for six years during which time they have little contact with their parents. When they return, their father Len is glad to see them as he intends for them to work in his coffee shop. His bookish daughter has other ideas, of school and education. Her diagnosis of tuberculosis keeps her from school and the coffee shop much to her father's dismay - he sees nothing wrong with her that a little hard work wouldn't fix. This daughter happens to be the mother of the author and while we yearn to hear more about her, the author tells us that:
Hers is a different story, to be told another time.
I hope she writes that book.
Jenny suffers her husbands unfaithfulness, eventually winding up on her own, still working hard as she continues to do throughout her life. You know the rest.
This was a fascinating and absorbing read and contained one of the most horrific life experiences I've read in any book. The day Jenny turned 17, her mother took her out by herself, a rare occurrence. They did not go out for ice cream or new shoes. Jenny was delivered to a man who was paid to remove all of Jenny's teeth. There was no anesthesia or pain medication besides alcohol. It is an unbelievable story, and what was even more unbelievable was the reason why.
For those interested in what life was like, Silvertown is recommended.