Millie Gray knows her Leith. Indeed, her own experiences and those of her mother have provided much of the raw material for this book.
heroine, Anna Campbell lives in a condemned slum in Couper Street, Leith during the early part of the twentieth century. Â Childless herself, she raises six foster children and, on and off, those of her sister in law and close friends. It’s a tale of survival through poverty, with a cast of both honest folk and scoundrels and is the prequel to In a Class of Their Own and In a League of Their Own.
In 18 Couper Street, we see how religion, poverty and prejudice ruled the lives of those Leithers, preventing Rachel from achieving the career she craved and from making the marriage of her heart. Most women married young had children and kept house, remaining faithful to husbands who worked hard and drank hard and only spent enough time in the house to father the next child. They formed a close community, as only those with nothing to lose can. Every street had its ‘wise woman’ who was called for in times of medical emergency, or when a problem needed to be solved. Anna was such a woman, thus allowing the author to experience every possible drama, from children needing to be looked after, to mothers losing sons in the Great War, or in the Titanic.
The book is a chronicle of life and hard times, moving at breakneck speed through war, tragedy and political change, as Leith is incorporated into Edinburgh and Anna has to see her children move on from the life she has known. Many of the places mentioned are no longer to be found but some are, or can be easily imagined in their locations and the author clearly enjoys bringing these names back from the dead.