In September 1870 a train leaves Manchester bound for London. Onboard is Lizzie Burns, a poor worker from the Irish slums who is embarking on the journey that will change her forever.
Sitting in the first-class carriage beside her lover, the wealthy mill owner Frederick Engels, the vision of a life of peace and comfort takes shape before her eyes: finally, at nearly 50, she is to be the lady of a house and the wife to a man. Perhaps now she can put the difficulties of the past behind her, and be happy.
In Gavin McCrea's stunning debut novel, we follow Lizzie as the promise of an easy existence in the capital slips from her view and as she gains, in its place, a profound understanding of herself and of the world.
While Frederick and his friend, Karl Marx, try to spur revolution among the working classes, Lizzie is compelled to undertake a revolution of another kind: of the heart and the soul.
Haunted by her first love (a revolutionary Irishman); burdened by a sense of duty to right past mistakes; and torn between a desire for independence and the pragmatic need to be taken care of, Lizzie learns, as she says, that the world doesn't happen how you think it will. The secret is to soften to it and to take its blows.
Wry, astute and often hilarious, Lizzie is as compelling and charismatic a figure as ever walked the streets of Victorian England or its novels. In giving her renewed life, Gavin McCrea earns his place in the pantheon of great debut novelists.
What listeners say about Mrs Engels
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A wife's view of life with Marxism. A 5* read
Any additional comments?
I knew very little about the personal lives of Marx and Engels and this story was a fascinating insight into their social and private lives. Several descriptions of these men spring to mind after reading this book - hypocrites, philanderers, selfish, opportunists, cruel, liars, idealists. And their wives were examples of Victorian style marriage, expected to be supportive of everything their husbands asked of them, whilst turning a blind eye to their infidelities and hypocritical way of life as compared to their idealistic notions of social reform for all. Mrs. Engels was a spirited, feisty woman who often subsumed her own self and identity for the sake of her sister (also Engels' mistress) and then for her own relationship with him. Her relationship with Jenny Marx was also a mixed blessing and one which never really became a comfortable one.This is a novel which leaves you feeling satisfied but curious to know more. It is superior historical fiction and has obviously involved a lot of research. I binge-listened to it because I couldn't bear to press the stop button until I found out what happened to all of the female characters. They were victims not only of their mens' ambitions but their own desire for a comfortable, conventional life, all whilst promoting a utopian social equality which they could never attain themselves. I loved every minute of it.
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- Bastet Pybus
Brilliant book brilliantly performed
Would you listen to Mrs Engels again? Why?
Yes. This is a richly layered book, one which will be worth listening to again from the vantage point of knowing what happens.
Who was your favorite character and why?
Lizzie is so vividly alive it's difficult not to be captivated by her, even if she is antipathetic in some ways.
Have you listened to any of Annie Farr’s other performances? How does this one compare?
No, but I wish she would record more. This was a dazzling performance.
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
There were various moments, but perhaps especially the reflections at the end.
Any additional comments?
This is a wonderful novel. Like 'Wide Sargasso Sea' it offers a new perspective on famous figures - like Jane Harris's wonderful novel 'The Observations', it brings a wise, funny, rude woman of the past vividly to life. Highly recommended.