This is a variation on North and South by Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell, which is one of my favourite books. If you’ve never read it I would heartily recommend it. Margaret Hale’s family relocates from the countryside, in the south of England to an industrial town in the North of England, a fictional place called Milton in ‘Darkshire’. Here she comes face to face with some harsh realities of life, sees want in its more unpleasant forms and meets young mill-owner Mr John Thornton. Margaret doesn’t appreciate Mr Thornton’s point of view on many things, including how he deals with his workers. Over time both of their viewpoints change – he starts to see the viewpoint of his workers, and takes a more humanitarian view, and she starts to better understand some of the pressures he works under, and gives him the credit he deserves for being such a strong and honourable self-made man.
I was a little thrown when Margaret’s hair colour was changed in first line of the prologue to be red instead of black, but I soon felt a bit more at home with the characters. This story picks up around the time of the riot. The mill workers in Milton are striking for more pay and Thornton has brought in mill hands from Ireland, which causes his workers to riot in protest. In the original Margaret goads him into going outside to face the mob to explain his viewpoint as she naively believes that he wouldn’t be in danger, being one man against many. In North and South Margaret realises her mistake when she sees people in the crowds with stones, and she rushes out to protect Thornton, as one human defending another, nothing more, and she gets injured. Here, although she attempts to protect Mr Thornton, he is the one who gets hit by the stone. He is momentarily knocked unconscious, and Margaret starts to see Thornton’s vulnerability much sooner than in N&S, so the scene the next day when he visits her unfolds differently. I am not sure that it follows that their visit would have gone so differently as in this variation, but I went with it!
Margaret and John’s relationship unfolds in a very different manner from canon following this initial change. One of the things I love about variations is the ripple effect, where a change doesn’t just change things initially but other things not directly connected with the variation. In this case, aside from the obvious differences to John and Margaret, Margaret’s relationship with Higgins is affected, Thornton’s relationship with Higgins starts at a different time, things also go differently for Boucher (the man who threw the stone and caused the strike to end), Margaret’s parents and even Thornton’s business affairs changed. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book.
On the downside I felt that there was some repetition in the scenes between John and Margaret – I know we needed to see their relationship develop but there were a series of scenes that dragged a bit for me because they were all variations on him being full of feeling for her and not wanting to scare her off and her vacillating between not being sure how she feels for him, and being ashamed of being affected by him. I would have liked to see a little more variety in their interaction. I also felt that the book could have done with a bit more tension, as it was a very smooth ride – some people may prefer this, and I don’t like angst for the sake of angst but it felt a little flat to me. It picked up pace towards the end, but in some respects I felt this was a bit rushed, I would have liked to have seen a bit more detail on how some of the other relationships developed (sorry to be vague, but I’m trying not to put spoilers in!). The ending itself was entirely satisfactory all round, there were no loose ends or things that I’d have liked to have seen changed.
Although this isn’t quite in the style of Mrs Gaskell, being generally more sensual, I enjoyed this author’s style. The dialogue didn’t feel too modern and though the spelling was generally US English there were only a few American words. There are some sex scenes, but they are not particularly graphic. One thing which I found a bit off-putting was that Mr Thornton was often referred to as ‘The Master’ out of context – it’s fine when he’s being the master of the mill, or he’s being thought of as the master of the mill even though he’s doing something else but out of context it was just odd.
On the whole, I enjoyed my first foray into North & South-based reading outside of non-published fan fiction. In Consequence is not this author’s only book based on North & South, and I’ve added her other book, A Heart for Milton to my wishlist.