Park Lane – Frances Osborne
Following in the footsteps of ’Downton Abbey’ and the revitalised Upstairs Downstairs’, this war time novel certainly did not follow the path I was expecting. At its heart are Bea and her sometimes maid Grace, two women who come from extremely different backgrounds. Yet these characters both bring to ‘Park Lane’ a different snapshot of what life was for women just prior to WW1 and during. Grace has come to London to make something of herself as a secretary yet finds herself unable to gain employment anywhere but as a maid in Bea’s family mansion. Bea is a rich young woman on the scary side of twenty, not yet married and desperate to make her mark on a world where women are decidedly second class citizens.
There was a lovely symmetry to this novel, as the notion of class became something of a nonissue in that neither woman was free to follow her dreams and constantly subjected to the mores of a world teetering on the edge. This is a novel that is truly about these women and their experiences, as Bea fights for the vote and then does what she can in France during the war, and Grace struggles with her class and the question of marriage or freedom. It was well written, skipping seamlessly between the two women and back again, and as an example of the world of a young woman prior to WW1 it stands above many of the offerings I’ve read to date.