Books & Literature

Book Review: The Trial of Lotta Rae, by Siobhan MacGowan

HISTORICAL FICTION: Set against the Suffragette movement, The Trial of Lotta Rae tells the story of a woman who is failed by the legal system.

A heartbreaking story that flawlessly entwines history and fiction.

CW: mention of rape

The Trial of Lotta Rae is a powerful and heartbreaking story of justice, or lack thereof, in Suffragette London. With gripping storytelling and a rich atmospheric setting, it’s the kind of book that totally consumes its reader. By the end, you will feel angry, sad, and frustrated, because even though Lotta Rae is fictional, her story echoes the brutal reality of men yielding power over women, from the dawn of the First World War right through to the #MeToo movement.

Lotta is a young working-class woman who decides to testify in court, against all the odds, when she is assaulted by an older man of wealth and privilege. She trusts her barrister, William Linden, to represent her fairly, but he has his own agenda. The decisions these two characters make set them both on a path of devastation and turmoil that impacts everyone around them, now and in the future.    

The snare of injustice and cruelty that entraps Lotta is distressing, but as tragedy after tragedy befalls her, it’s difficult to tear your eyes away. The poignant prose and interesting narration style serve as the cherries on top of a story that reels you into her unsettling world and won’t let you go.

Every character is believable, from the miserable William Linden to the slimy rapist Henry Allen Griffiths to the breath of fresh air that is William’s son Raff. They are all deeper than they first appear, slowly bringing to the surface intentions and motivations that make them seem three dimensional. Of course, Lotta is a heroine you’ll want to see succeed more than anything, with her fierce bravery in the face of truly appalling circumstances. Though she sometimes makes decisions that are difficult to agree with, she remains sympathetic the whole way through.

This is the perfect blend of fiction and history which weave together seamlessly to create an insider version of the struggle for equality in a horrendously unequal world. The plot includes key parts of the suffragette movement, including the death of Emily Davidson, who threw herself in front of the King’s horse at Epsom Derby, and the gruesome fate of the women who refused food while imprisoned as a final act of protest. Lotta gets wrapped up in the fight for the vote, though it’s not the central driver of the plot. Rather, her involvement with the suffragettes feels like a reaction to the main arc of her life: the trial and the effects of its verdict. It seems as though Lotta joins the movement as a reflection of her desperate feelings to gain power back from her male oppressors. The result is a story that involves the suffragettes, but is not wholly about them.

The Trial of Lotta Rae is not a feel-good story, or one you should read to reinstate your faith in humanity. But it does expose the true struggle of women who have lost everything in the pursuit of justice. In the face of their sacrifices, it stirs the drive to seek the truth and never settle for inequality.

Reviewed by Vanessa Elle
Instagram: @vanessaellewrites

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: May 2022
RRP: $32.99

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