by Simone Pertuiset
Beginning in 1895, this triumvirate of beautifully presented and interlinked stories explores just over three decades of societal, political, and life-changing events through the experiences of two working-class families.
Pertuiset delves into the seismic impact of the motor car, votes for women, and World War I together with the harsh, everyday struggles of single-parenthood, poverty, and disease.
The first tale, The Great Manure Crisis, introduces the reader to John King, a carriage builder from Tottenham, North East London.
The reader is effortlessly absorbed into King’s world and the upheavals that swirl around him, dramatically affecting his business, which when combined with personal heartbreak leads the decent, hardworking King to spiral into alcoholism.
The consequences of this addiction are sensitively handled and Pertuiset positions King’s downfall objectively and in the broader social context, expertly fusing historical insight and information with character-driven storytelling.
It’s supremely interesting and educational but never overly didactic. Pertuiset’s prose is straightforward yet elegant and all three stories read like the very best of historical fiction or family drama whilst thriving on well-chosen facts and observation.
There are complementary illustrations and commentary boxes that consolidate, clarify, and enlarge upon the issues that thread and evolve through each tale. Pertuiset’s research into the age is meticulous and her knowledge of period detail makes for a fascinating and immersive read.
Springtime Requiem presents the Reed family and their daily battles to put food on the table whilst attempting to adapt to a swiftly rising tide of change affecting all aspects of their lives. This second tale cleverly begins to subtly knit the Reeds together with the King family.
It’s skillfully woven, and the members of each household are brought vibrantly to life, making them convincing, and, despite their issues taking place over a hundred years ago, they are incredibly relatable, especially on an emotional level.
Pertuiset finishes with the profoundly moving and deeply poignant Sepia Dawn which takes the reader along with John Reed, whom we learn is the author’s grandfather, and his contemporaries, into the ghastly hell of WWI. It is one of the finest accounts of the horrors of the conflict that I have read, written without judgment to provide a narrative as compelling as it is appalling.
Pertuiset includes an excellent glossary but I could have benefited from the Reed and King family trees, although not essential as neither were large families.
Three Tales from the Tip of an Era provides a vivid and readable account of this turbulent turn of the century era. Intimate and engaging, it presents a rich yet nuanced chronicle that proves compulsive reading. Highly recommended.