Bookish Discussions

The Foundling // Can Bess Find Her Child?


I’m heading off to Stacey Halls’ author event at Waterstones this evening. I’ll be listening to her chat about her debut, The Familiars, and her most recent novel, The Foundling. I didn’t want to go without having read her newest work, so I dedicated the weekend to it.

So… It’s London, 1754. Six years after leaving her newborn at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to reclaim the illegitimate daughter she never knew. But her daughter has already been claimed, by her…

Less from a mile from Bess is Alexandra, a wealthy housebound woman, who is persuaded to hire a nursemaid to take care of her daughter. Her past is threatening to catch up with her, and will soon tear her carefully constructed world apart…

It sounds like a lot, right?

It was brilliant. Halls writes such captivating stories. She has quickly become a favourite author of mine, writing such tense and atmospheric historical fiction. Her writing style is simple but elegant. It’s enchanting and addictive. I flew through it in two days, which could have easily been one, because I couldn’t get enough of these characters.

Instead of focusing on the lavish lives of the eighteenth-century society, Halls chose to write her story concerning The Foundling Hospital. A part of life that was not so glamorous – a part of life that is forgotten about. I’ve heard bits and bobs about the hospital, mainly from Emily Brontë’s bicentenary, when everyone was discussing Heathcliff’s origins. Some believe he came from The Foundling Hospital, after his mother gave him up, most likely due to financial reasons.

It sheds light on social issues of the eighteenth-century and how society tried to combat it. The hospital was a way to give your child a better way of life; if you couldn’t afford to raise a child, like Bess, then the hospital would care for your child, teaching them skills to go forward in life. But it was also a lottery, some children were taken and others weren’t. Those who drew a black ball would have to keep their child. Babies would be found shivering in the cold street, waiting for death to blanket them.

I quite enjoyed that social aspect of the story. It made it seem more real, more historical, despite it being fiction. It was an important issue to raise in a climate like ours…

My only issue was the dual perspective. I’ll try to go about this lightly because I’m wary of spoilers, but I didn’t like how the novel was split. I understand stylistically why Halls chose to write one part from Bess’ perspective and the other from Alexandra’s, but it made the story seem a little…jarred? The time we spent in Alexandra’s head took away from Bess’ story, and the relationships she was otherwise forming. It made me feel a lil disconnected, let’s say.

I didn’t really like Alexandra as a character anyway, so I was always happy to get away from her perspective.797E6FB3-C631-4D8F-A7B6-A3741D8FD933

The Foundling was a good read, though. A great follow up to her debut. I think my expectations were a little too high, especially considering The Familiars is a firm favourite of mine. It isn’t the same book, though, and it shouldn’t necessarily be compared to it either. I should have gone into it with no preconceptions; same author, but different book.

I did really enjoy it though, giving it a four star rating in the end. I loved the time period, the history of the hospital, and how she created a story that seems so real and likely. It was harrowing and yet heartwarming at the same time.

Have you read Stacey Halls before? Does The Foundling sound like something you’d enjoy? Let’s discuss it below!

Thanks for reading, Lauren X


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