Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Guest Book Review: Gemma Jackson - Ha'penny Chance

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

Ivy Rose Murphy dreams of a better future. For years she has set out daily from the tenements known as 'The Lane' to beg for discards from the homes of the wealthy - discards she turns into items to sell around the Dublin markets. And now she has grander schemes afoot. But, as her fortunes take a turn for the better, there are eyes on Ivy and she is vulnerable as she carries her earnings home through the dark winter streets. And, to add to her fears, a well-dressed stranger begins to stalk her. Ann Marie Gannon, a wealthy young woman who has struck up an unlikely friendship with Ivy, wants to protect her. But will the stubborn woman she admires allow her to do so? Jem Ryan, who owns the local livery, longs to make Ivy his wife, but she is reluctant to give up her fierce independence. Then a sudden astonishing event turns Ivy's world upside down. A dazzling future beckons and she must decide where her loyalties lie.

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Ha'Penny Chance is the follow up to Gemma Jackson's excellent d├ębut novel Through Streets Broad and Narrow. From reading the author's bio it is clear she has led a colourful and varied life and has used all her experiences to create a wonderful book. Although this book is a sequel it is a standalone novel but to get the most from it I suggest you read the first book beforehand. This will only enhance your enjoyment of this book dubbed something in the vain of Strumpet City. Set in 1925 in Dublin's tenements this is a gripping book that despite its subject matter and the overwhelming feeling of deprivation and hardship the characters go through there is just something uplifting and feel good in the story and community the author has created. I  flew through this in a day as I was reacquainted with old familiar friends and welcomed with open arms a whole new cast of characters.

Some may feel this book is too Irish specific and mightn't appeal to the wider mass market but I think you should give this book a try and be open to something new. I've read heaps of English based books set back in the late 1800's and early 1900's so it is nice to read of Ireland in that era as well. We meet Ivy Murphy as she struggles to get by on a daily basis, having lost her father she is now a young woman of 22 living alone in two basement rooms of a tenement house. But her fortunes are on the up as she is a woman who is different from her class and wants to become independent and break free from the constraints her background has put upon her. She travels around Dublin City with her pram to the houses of the rich taking any old scraps or donated clothes she can get. Using her talents she transforms these bits and pieces into something that can be sold at market. Here is where she makes her money selling to the stall holders. An opportunity in the previous book paid off and she soon hopes her dolls will be a success too.

Yes Ivy may be trying to make something of herself but this all takes time and she has the needs of others always at the centre of her thought process. Ivy is kind, caring and good natured and working so hard she must remember to make time for friendship and love. There are lots of descriptions of her day to day life at home. Talking about queuing for water before even attempting any household chores, going to the creamery for milk, taking down the bath to have a wash outside etc. Here the author does a good job of showing just how poor and destitute these people were, how they valued every little thing and struggled to do what we would now term easy on daily basis. At first I enjoyed these descriptions but soon they became repetitive, there were several times I thought you have said this before and there was no need to go into such minute detail regarding Ivy's day to day dressing and cleaning habits. It did help to show just how far we have come in little under a hundred years in all areas of society and living. I wonder if Ivy and co were alive today what would they make of everything that exists in our modern day world?

The book has numerous storylines some more stronger than others. I found a storyline was set up then forgotten about for quite a few chapters and all of a sudden we would be back to it again and I had actually forgotten about it myself. Maybe the author was trying to fit too much in instead of saving some things for further books. Jem is everyone woman's ideal man – owner of the local livery yard, he is stepping out with Ivy and he is always on the look out for her. He wants to marry her but Ivy is fearful of commitment and loosing her hard won independence the question of children does nothing to allay her fears either. Jem was a strong man well able to cope with Ivy and I loved how he looked out for everyone in the Lane especially with Declan Johnson causing untold trouble. One thing I did find strange was the character of Annmarie Scanlan, she was from the upper classes but had now branched out to live on her own. She befriended Ivy and was keen to meet all the residents and learn t how the other half (so to speak) lived. I liked Annmarie as a character she was so kind to Ivy and wanted to help her in any way she could. But what really struck me and in a way it was frustrating why would someone from the totally different end of society want to be friends with someone from the tenements? Would this have really happened at the time? I doubt very much so.I'm not against this in anyway as Annmarie's storyline and the subsequent arrival of theatre star Douglas Joyce all really added to the story. I'm just questioning the reality of this happening as up to this point I felt everything was very true to life of the time. There are many more characters in this book that all bring that special something to this story too many to mention here but if you do pick up this book you will meet them all and also discover what fate has in store for Ivy.

Gemma Jackson has a way with words that instantly draws you into the lives of the residents of the Lane. She portrays a realistic, unglamorous picture of life in the Dublin tenements that sadly existed such a short time ago. This was a time which I had only very briefly encountered in school history lessons.The author has sparked my interest that much that I may very well go and look up more about that era. The characters and setting are truly brought to life and not living in Dublin myself Gemma's excellent descriptions really helped me visualise everything. I turned each page eager to discover what everyone was getting up to in such a time of great change for Ireland. Despite one or two minor issues as discussed above, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this absorbing tale of Dublin City life to anyone.Fingers crossed there will be a book three. Ivy and co have found a place in my heart and haven't quite let go just yet. There is more to this story to be told and I for one can't wait to see what happens next.

Many thanks to Poolbeg for sending me a copy of this to review and to Sharon for having the review on the blog.


  1. I've just spent an age commenting and the darn thing has disappeared!

  2. The brief comment appears on the page but my letter length reply was spit out into the ether of the net. Aaaghhhh.

  3. I'm determined to voice my appreciation. So, I'll try again to thank Emma and Sharon for taking the time to read Ha'penny Chance and comment.

  4. Such a beautiful review and I think I'd love the book!