Review: Gaslight by Eloise Williams by Sian Thomas

I read Gaslight by Eloise Williams recently. What pulled me to it was definitely the setting – I love a story set somewhere I was born, somewhere I continue to be (and probably will remain – I’m certainly happy for that to be the case). Cardiff has a history, it has looked so many different ways, been so many different things (which can continue to be true as we all trudge through time together). I really did enjoy experiencing it in the Victorian Era. Something about knowing my home completely differently while I also have the pleasure of following a story was lovely.

This may be a peculiar thing to lead off with, but I really liked the line under the title on the cover of the book: “Have you seen her?”. Sometimes words strike a chord with me; this did. I like the mood this seems to create from the very get-go. The book does have quite the atmospheric feel to it. From cover to cover, there’s something enchanting about the intricacies of the character and the setting she resides in. “Have you seen her?” makes me feel as if I should be looking; as if hints of the character (Nansi) or other characters or even of this version of Cardiff’s past are still all over the place, waiting for the kind of attention only I can give them, because I’m already where they were. Something about that, that co-existence, is pleasing.

The story itself I don’t want to spoil, but the allure of a theatre story (definitely with some other things thrown in) in this era was a good combination. It was nice to imagine, and it was just as nice to be led into imagining it and down the path of the story. There was a moment I liked in particular; Nansi steals a piece of sea glass for a show, and during the show that piece of sea glass is used to really sell an act. The way the audience’s rapture is described, and the way the ploy plays out and the anxiety and nerves of Nansi’s surrounding it, was always a scene that had me hooked because of how easy it was to get lost in it, to become enraptured myself.

I think the book is good for a lot of ages. I enjoyed it, and I’m sure that relatives my age or younger (or older!) would, too. There is something about a young person’s endeavours (in this case, Nansi discovering the truth of her mother’s disappearance and her family in general) and watching them grow from their starting point of “clueless” to a stronger character with an ending to be proud of. It’s nice in a sense, to watch someone grow like this. To watch a character stand up for people who can’t, to stand up against people she hadn’t dreamt of standing up to before. I am immensely pleased to hear that Gaslight won the Wales Arts Review Young People’s Book of the Year 2017 award. Being good for all sorts of ages, and a story of fair intrigue, I’d say it did deserve it – and the four stars I give it.

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