I’ve just been crying my eyes out as I’ve finished reading The Song of Peterloo, an immersive novel of a loving, single mother desperate for equality and social reform. Set against a backdrop of love, friendship and humanity, this gripping and poignant story depicts one of the most socially unjust and bloody events ever to take place in the history of Manchester – the Peterloo Massacre.
It is very apt that I finished reading this moving novel today as it is the anniversary of the massacre which took place on 16th August 1819. On this day, a cavalry of yeomanry brutally charged on a peaceful crowd of thousands of working-class people including young children. This resulted in the barbaric deaths of 18 innocent people. The crowd had gathered at St Peter’s Field in the centre of the city as they wanted political reform – but in a peaceful manner.
As I’ve lived in Manchester now for twenty years and proudly class myself as an adopted Mancunian, I’ve known about this horrific atrocity for a long number of years. However it is only from reading The Song of Peterloo, passionately written by Manchester born author Carolyn O’Brien that I now truly realise the brutal, personal impact of the historic event.
The Song of Peterloo is the emotive story of Nancy Kaye, a passionate young mill worker desperate to learn to read and write. She is also desperate to keep her six-year-old son Walter away from the dangerous life of working in the mills; she wants to give him opportunities she has never had. With the stirrings of social reform, Nancy begins to feel hopeful of change and is inspired to get involved.
We’ll make history! Just think on it, people’ll look back in t’ years to come, and say it were us, here in Manchester, that won t’ vote for ordinary folk.
Nancy’s passionate spirit catches the eye of two very different men; Samson Wright, the new and very reluctant mill owner and; Joe Price, the good looking brickie. Conveying smatterings of romance and danger, these two characters are pivotal to Nancy’s narrative, brilliantly enhancing the tension, drama and humanity within the story.
The manner in which Carolyn O’Brien skillfully structures the novel also enhances the tension. The crux of the story is divided into the four seasons of the year; but the 16th August dramatically gets a section all of its own. The chapters are short, succinct and powerful. I got swept away reading it as I kept thinking ‘just one more chapter‘ and before I knew it, I’d finished!
Carolyn O’Brien was compelled to write The Song of Peterloo as a ‘memorial to the brave reformers of 1819.’ It was released in August 2019 to coincide with the Peterloo bicentenary commemorations hosted by Manchester Histories. So it’s available now for you all to buy and read! It is a fascinating and truly gripping book that I urge you to read. Yes, it is shocking and brutal but it is also hopeful and beautiful.
Thank you Carolyn O’Brien for kindly sending me a copy of your beautiful novel. I loved it and it has made me even prouder to be an adopted Mancunian. Thank You!
Happy reading everyone! 🙂