The Foundling by Stacey Halls
Read: 11 - 22 October 2020
Release year: 2020
This book was my Rare Birds Book Club choice for October. The Rare Birds Book Club gives you a choice between two books every month. You do not know exactly which books they are, but you can choose from two book descriptions. All of the books are written by female authors and feature women as the protagonist(s). At the end of the month, you can discuss the book with the other members on their website.
To be honest, this wasn't one of the best books I have read lately, but it did have some interesting elements. The main issue I had with the story was the ending, which felt like the final five minutes of a Disney movie. It felt really unrealistic that everyone solved their problems and lived happily ever after. This is just not real life and I would have preferred something more realistic. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the rest of the book as it covered some interesting subjects.
There are two main characters in Stacey Halls' The Foundling - Bess and Alexandra - and the story is set in London in the 1750s. Bess grows up poor and lives with her father and brother. In the first chapter, we learn that she is pregnant and that the child's father, a married man, has recently passed away. After giving birth to a daughter, Bess takes the child to London's Foundling Hospital, because she cannot take care of the child herself. She vows to come back to collect her daughter once she has saved up enough money. Six years later, this is exactly what she does. However, when she returns at the Foundling Hospital, Bess is told she has already reclaimed her. Bess is stunned and tries to figure out who adopted her daughter in her name.
Then the story shifts to Alexandra, a young widow who lives with her daughter and two housemaids. Alexandra hasn't left her house in over a decade, nor does she allow her daughter to go out. The only exception for them is a Sunday trip to church at the Foundling Hospital. Alexandra is dealing with a great deal of anxiety. She is convinced the outside world is a dangerous place for her and her daughter. She makes sure the house is always properly locked and in their weekly church visits she covers the windows of the carriage with a curtain to prevent them from being seen. One day, her good friend and doctor at the Foundling Hospital, Doctor Mead, convinces her to hire a nursemaid to help her take care of her daughter. This nursemaid turns out to be Bess, who suspects that Alexandra's daughter might be hers.
It is not until much later in the book that Alexandra's reasons for her anxiety are explained. She has post-traumatic stress disorder caused by a terrible childhood event. Her parents were murdered in front of her during a robbery. Since, Alexandra finds the world a dangerous place and does not trust anyone in it. She makes the decision that it is safer for her and her daughter to stay at home. Due to her PTSD, Alexandra is also emotionally unavailable to her daughter. When Bess moves in as a nursemaid and immediately bonds with the child, Alexandra's problems become even more apparent.
It was never a secret that Bess turned out to be the child's biological mother. In addition, it was no surprise that Alexandra's late husband had a one-night stand with Bess and is thus the child's biological father. The main focus of the book is the question which of the two mothers can provide a better life for the little girl. Alexandra, the adoptive mother, can give the child a stable upbringing with a home, clothes and other items, but at the same time lacks the ability to take care of her emotionally. Bess, the biological mother, can barely get by on her own, let alone take care of a child, but she can provide the loving and caring environment she lacks in her adoptive home. Where will the child be better off?
I loved how the writer incorporated mental health issues into the story because it is still not something that happens enough. People need to be educated more on mental health so that we can finally break the taboo around it. It was also interesting to think about the different lifestyles that both mothers could offer the child, and which of the two would be the better option in the end. As I said at the beginning of this review, I didn't like how the writer wrapped up the story, but it nevertheless gave me a lot to think about.