2 out of 4 stars
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Tales from 19th century Britain often focus on the luxurious lives of the upper class. Very rarely do we get to see the struggles of the poor and working classes within that time period. Betsy and Catherine, written by Helen Gailey, offers a refreshing look into the divide between the classes. The novel opens with a flashback showing the lifelong friendship of a servant and a highborn girl. Betsy was born into the serving class; however, her relationship with Catherine, the daughter of her masters, opens her up to new opportunities. The pair are inseparable and devoted to each other. The strength of their friendship is tested when they are falsely accused of stealing and sentenced to a life of servitude in Australia. Their story crosses continents and oceans, showing the value of unconditional love and loyalty.
Gailey provides an eye-opening overview of the mistreatment of the poor and the divide between Britain’s classes. Catherine’s status as a highborn lady made her reactions toward the conditions of her fellow prisoners more telling. As she led a sheltered life, Catherine never had to consider how the lower classes lived until she was falsely accused and imprisoned. I also found Betsy and Catherine’s journey to Australia to be fascinating. While I was aware that Australia was colonized by convicts, I always assumed that they were deserving of this punishment. I did not consider that many of them were actually innocent or only guilty of a petty crime. It was saddening to read how some women were humiliated and starved just for stealing food to feed their families.
Despite the interesting premise, there were some major drawbacks. One of the most jarring to me was the transition from Catherine’s journal to Betsy’s perspective. Narration from Catherine would abruptly end with a phrase like “Betsy closed the journal.” I feel that a better way to handle this would be to either separate the perspectives by starting a new chapter or including a clear line break. This also brings me to another issue: inconsistency of the point of view. Typically, narration told from Betsy’s point of view was in first person. When transitioning from Catherine’s perspective to Betsy’s, third person point of view was uncharacteristically applied to Betsy’s perspective. This was most likely done to differentiate the perspectives of both characters, but the inconsistency was confusing. Incorporating one of the possible improvements I noted earlier would help in correcting this issue.
I noticed a multitude of errors while reading Betsy and Catherine. They were significant enough to indicate that the book has not yet been professionally edited. Most of them consisted of missing apostrophes and improper word usage. One error that stood out to me was the misnaming of Catherine. She was incorrectly referred to as Emma by Betsy.
I rate Betsy and Catherine 2 out of 4 stars. I was torn between a two and a three for this book. While the premise was novel and interesting, I ultimately decided on a two because of the numerous errors and jarring switch in perspectives. Those who are looking for a story that is reminiscent of the classics of the 19th century would most enjoy Gailey’s work. Readers who are looking for an action-packed or shocking tale should look elsewhere.
Betsy and Catherine
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