Summary and book reviews of Mrs. Engels by Gavin McCrea

Mrs. Engels

by Gavin McCrea

Mrs. Engels by Gavin McCrea X
Mrs. Engels by Gavin McCrea
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2015, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2015, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite

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About this Book

Book Summary

Very little is known about Lizzie Burns, the illiterate Irishwoman and longtime lover of Frederick Engels, coauthor of The Communist Manifesto. In Gavin McCrea's first novel, the unsung Lizzie is finally given a voice that won't be forgotten.

Lizzie is a poor worker in the Manchester, England, mill that Frederick owns. When they move to London to be closer to Karl Marx and his family, she must learn to navigate the complex landscapes of Victorian society. We are privy to Lizzie's intimate, wry views on Marx and Engels's mission to spur revolution among the working classes, and to her ambivalence toward her newly luxurious circumstances. Lizzie is haunted by her first love (a revolutionary Irishman), burdened by a sense of duty to right past mistakes, and torn between a desire for independence and the pragmatic need to be cared for.

Despite or because of their differences - in nationality, class, education, and religion - Lizzie and Frederick remain drawn to each other, making Mrs. Engels a complex and high-spirited love story.

Phase the now
1870


I. Fair Warning

No one understands men better than the women they don't marry, and my own opinion—beknown only to God—is that the difference between one man and another doesn't amount to much. It's no matter what line he's in or which ideas he follows, whether he is sweet-tempered or ready-witted, a dab at one business or the next, for there isn't so much in any of that, and you won't find a man that hasn't something against him. What matters over and above the contents of his character—what makes the difference between sad and happy straits for she who must put her life into his keeping—is the mint that jingles in his pockets. In the final reckoning, the good and the bad come to an even naught and the only thing left to recommend him is his money.

Young lasses yet afflicted with strong feeling and seeking a likely subject for a tender passion will say that money has no place in their thoughts. They make exceptions...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The Mrs. Engels of Gavin McCrea's debut novel, is...not Engels' wife in the eyes of the law, even though Lizzie Burns lived with him for many years. This is just one facet of the enormously rich and complex relationship McCrea has imagined around the bare biographical facts that are known about Lizzie. The story is anchored in the eight years Lizzie and Frederick lived together in London — between 1870 and 1878 — but also delves into the past when Frederick was the owner of the Manchester cotton mill that employed Lizzie and her older sister Mary. While the secrets of the past and Lizzie and Frederick's complex feelings toward each other keep the plot moving, the main joy is in Lizzie's character and spirit. Despite struggling with illiteracy, financial dependency, guilt and self-doubt, she remains forward-looking and optimistic.   (Reviewed by Kate Braithwaite).

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Media Reviews

Library Journal

Lizzie's distinctive working-class Irish spin on the foibles of upper-crust London society is at once biting and humorous, and Dublin-born world traveler McCrea is a new author to follow for those who enjoy potential Man Booker Prize longlisters. It is a pity that the full biography of the Burns sisters may never be told in nonfiction, yet readers will feel that McCrea has done them justice here.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. McCrea gives the illiterate Lizzie a vivid, convincing voice, sparkling with energy and not untouched by pathos. ... But the heart of the novel is the beautifully realized romance between Lizzie and Frederick: a mismatch of values and temperaments, yet also a tender and complex bond.

Booklist

Starred Review. Moving, finely detailed, rife with full-bodied, humanizing portraits of historical icons, and told in striking prose, this is a novel to be savored.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Lizzie's voice - earthy, affectionate, and street-smart but also sly, unabashedly mercenary, and sometimes-scheming - grabs the reader from the first sentence and doesn't let go... Who knew reading about communists could be so much fun.

The Guardian (UK)

McCrea's fictional speculation makes a fine symphony out of the silence that surrounds Lizzie Burns.

The Times (UK)

Gavin McCrea is triumphant in his exuberant debut in creating Lizzie's voice; she is dazzlingly convincing.

The Independent (UK)

This is the best kind of historical fiction - oozing period detail, set in a milieu populated by famous figures and events about which much is known, but seen through the eyes of a central character who, due to her illiteracy, left no ready access to her experience in the form of letters or diary entries: a rich and accomplished first novel.

The Spectator (UK)

This is an assured, beautifully written debut.

The Daily Mail (UK)

Ambitious and imaginative... McCrea breathes real life into a historical character of whom we know next to nothing.

The Irish Times

McCrea's novel, Mrs Engels, brings its historical characters to vivid and often - at least in Lizzie's case - rambunctious life... Clear-eyed, sardonic, self-deprecating, she is a strong literary heroine in the mould of the main characters of Emma Donoghue's Slammerkin and Anne Enright's The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Marx and Engels Family Members

In Mrs. Engels, Gavin McCrea brings the families of Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx to life, pitching the reader into the action with little biographical backstory. The lives of these characters are interesting to learn about, within and beyond the time span covered in the novel.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) and Karl Marx (1818-1183) were both born in the Rhine Province, then part of Prussia, and collaborated in the 1840s after meeting, for the second time, in Paris. One of the cornerstones of their partnership, The Communist Manifesto, was published in 1848, and asserted that human history consistently showed a struggle between the working classes or proletariat and the owners and producers or ...

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