Have you been missing your Downton Abbey fix? The Buttonmaker’s Daughter by Merryn Allingham may just fill that gap!
As events in Europe and news of the impending threat of war trickle through, this is a novel that looks at the personal dramas that took place in a society already navigating huge social and political change. Born to an industry-owning father and an aristocratic mother, Elizabeth must juggle her own dreams of independence, her parents’ wishes for her ‘good marriage’, and the responsibility of reuniting her feuding family. Housemaid Ivy is desperate to marry before her love is pulled away to war, William is struggling with his own feelings towards his schoolboy friend, and Elizabeth is drawn to the promise a new life with a charming young architect. Everyone’s life hangs on the brink of change, and if war is declared, will there even be a future for the Summerhayes estate?
I’m reviewing The Buttonmaker’s Daughter as part of the blog tour today and I’ve enjoyed this step back in time. There is a sequel too, The Secret of Summerhayes, which is publishing in July and I am intrigued as to how the story continues.
May, 1914. Nestled in Sussex, the Summerhayes mansion seems the perfect country idyll. But with a long-running feud in the Summers family and tensions in Europe deepening, Summerhayes’ peaceful days are numbered.
For Elizabeth Summer, the lazy quiet of her home has become stifling. A chance meeting with Aiden Kellaway, an architect’s assistant, offers the secret promise of escape. But to secure her family’s future, Elizabeth must marry well. A man of trade falls far from her father’s uncompromising standards.
As the sweltering heat of 1914 builds to a storm, Elizabeth faces a choice between family loyalty and an uncertain future with the man she loves.
One thing is definite: this summer will change everything.
Our first introduction to the Summer family is Elizabeth’s father, Joshua, in a towering rage. Summerhayes is adjoining the estate of Joshua’s brother-in-law, Henry, and he’s done something on purpose to sabotage a project Joshua is undertaking on his estate. This feud is a theme throughout The Buttonmaker’s Daughter with dire consequences. I enjoyed the suspense this gives to the story, often angry myself! and heavy hearted for a couple of our characters.
Elizabeth is quite a wilful character and identifies with the purpose of the Suffragettes. Disliking her London debut she prefers life on the Summerhayes estate… until she meets apprentice architect Aiden Kellaway who unsettles her and makes her acknowledge things she’s been burying. Their clandestine friendship is one that grows from being gentle into a force to reckon with (fitting for the time period The Buttonmaker’s Daughter is set). I’m looking forward to seeing the development of their relationship in the sequel.
William (Elizabeth’s brother and heir to the estate) and his friend Oliver really captured my heart. Both misfits at boarding school and not fitting in anywhere, they find a kindred spirit in each other. One scene in particular is on playback in my mind, showing just what loyalty means and how much stronger William is than I ever gave him credit for.
Their parent’s marriage of convenience overshadows them as people. Father Joshua comes across as a know-it-all and I think there’s more to him beneath that bluster. Mother Alice appears to surrender so much but I’m hoping to see a different side to her in The Secret of Summerhayes.
The settings, life on the estate and politics are skillfully brought to life. One thing that I hadn’t thought that much about before was the relationship between ’employer’ and ’employee’ and the trust that has often grown through years of service – making these relationships unique. Alice’s dinner party is only one example of how complicated those relationships can be.
The Buttonmaker’s Daughter ends on a climax. What happens to Summerhayes next? Will Henry recover his fighting spirit? Does William become the man I think it’s possible for him to be? Will Elizabeth prove her dad wrong? Will Alice find an inner core of steel? So many questions! I’m going with Elizabeth’s feelings about the wilderness and Italian garden – I’ve conjectured about what the secret may be but haven’t come up with an answer that fits!
If you enjoyed watching Downton Abbey you will definitely enjoy The Buttonmaker’s Daughter. A recommended read from me.
Merryn Allingham was born into an army family and spent her childhood on the move. Unsurprisingly, it gave her itchy feet and in her twenties she escaped from an unloved secretarial career to work as cabin crew and see the world. The arrival of marriage, children and cats meant a more settled life in the south of England where she’s lived ever since. It also gave her the opportunity to go back to ‘school’ and eventually teach at university.
Merryn has always loved books that bring the past to life, so when she began writing herself the novels had to be historical. She finds the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries fascinating eras to research and her first book, The Crystal Cage, had as its background the London of 1851. The Daisy’s War trilogy followed, set in India and London during the 1930s and 40s.
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