While on holiday (kinda) in Edinburgh, I read a book set in Edinburgh. I like it when my city matches what I’m reading. I received a copy of this book from Loves Books Group Tours and took it with me on our road trip.
This book is a family saga set in the late 19th century and centres on the print industry during that period.
Set in the thick of workers lives in Edinburgh’s thriving print industry, The Caseroom follows Iza into the arcane world of the caseroom where she learns the intricacies of a highly-skilled trade.
As one of some 800 Edinburgh women who for a few decades did so, she becomes a hand-typesetter, work that had been, and was to become once more, a male preserve. Despite hostility to the cheap labour that women represent, Iza persists in work that allows her to feed her imagination on books. But holding on to her trade means hardening herself to the needs of those she loves. And when the men’s union moves to eliminate women from the caseroom and a We Women movement forms to oppose them, there is no middle ground. Torn between class and gender loyalties and embroiled in a bitter labour dispute, Iza must choose sides.
And I have an excerpt for you here:
Into the caseroom
Wakening, she raised her head and peered through darkness to where dirty yellow light from a streetlamp smudged window panes, sink and stove. Going on six by her reckoning. Waiting for bells to strike the hour, she shut her eyes and opened her ears to rhythmic snuffles from her mother, dead to the world by her side; to creak of springs as her sister shifted in her bed in the corner; from ben the bedroom, a gasp as her father trawled for breath; a loud snort, then silence. Not a cheep from her brothers. Hands clasped to her breast as though in prayer, she clamped elbows to ribs to contain a tingle in her veins that put her in mind of herself as a bairn on gala day, except that that bairn’s blood would not have had this peppering of fear in it. So how come it was there? What this day held in store gave true cause for excitement, aye, for apprehension, aye. But fear? What was there to be feart of? In answer, her brother Rab’s face, white-lipped and seething, came to mind. Last night when, silenced by a sharp word from their father, Rab had gritted his teeth, she’d felt triumphant. But even as she’d felt it she’d had an inkling that such a triumph would not withstand the light of day. She’d not lain long before metal rang on stone in a nearby street. Keeping an ear pinned to the bedroom, she listened to hooves clip-clop closer. Rattle of milk churns. Must be gone six. She slipped from under blankets and squatted at the chanty, beam end pressed to cold rim to muffle the tinkle, a common enough sound of a night but one that at this hour, with day nearing, might act like a hooter to rouse folk. In two ticks she was dressed in clothes left ready over the back of a chair: drawers, light summer vest, stockings, faded grey and black striped dress, fresh-laundered, navy smock. Boots? No. She set them down by the door ready till she’d got porridge and dinner pieces made.
My thoughts on this book:
I enjoyed the family story that played out against the backdrop of the print works. Iza’s voice is refreshingly modern, considering the timeframe of the book.
I might say this a lot about the stuff I read, but the whole thing would make a good television series.
For more on the actual book, and the inspiration behind it, go read the Book Inspector’s interview with the author.
And you can buy the book here.
Thank you to Love Books Group, Fledgling Press and Kate Hunter for a complimentary copy of the book.
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