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Netherwood by Jane Sanderson
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Netherwood (2011)

by Jane Sanderson

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804223,448 (3.57)None
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What initially grabbed my attention to read Netherwood was the description of its similarity to Downton Abbey. I don't know exactly what it is about that show but I love that we get to see both sides of the wealthy and the working class under one roof. In Netherwood you get these different points of view as well but it's very dissimilar with everything else it brings to the story. The book's central character is Eve Williams, who loses her husband in a mining accident and has to find a way to provide for herself and her three children. Among the chaos of this tragedy she finds a friend in an unexpected source. That friend helps her journey into the unknown territory of the wealthy elite in Netherwood who have troubles of their own namely their stubborn and selfish son Tobias.

So this book was so not what I was expecting but it also was in a way. It took me awhile to get used the accents the characters used. There were also some things happening towards the beginning of the story that I couldn't understand which worried me because I liked the plot so much. But, slowly but surely I got sucked into Eve's life. I feel like when her husband died, which was heart-wrenching, was the moment when I truly fell for Eve's character. Sanderson did such a great job in the build up for her husband's death. Even when I knew it was going to happen it still couldn't lessen the blow I felt for him and his family. When a book moves me that way it becomes a winner in my eyes immediately.

Eve has a strong spirit. She's described as being beautiful but she is either unaware or uncaring of what she looks like. All the guys fall for her which amused me so much. She had so many proposals that it was hilarious but it also cemented the kind of person she was. She was caring, independent, and could apparently win over anyone she met. Her cooking got her back on her feet. She was able to provide for her children in a time that without a husband that was thought to be impossible. Eve made many enemies along the way but the enemies she made weren't great people anyways. They blamed her for things that had nothing to do with her or the person's shortsightedness got in the way. I expect the drama to hit the fan in the next book. But, there were still moments of drama that kept my attention none so more than Tobias and his... ways.

Tobias likes to think he is a charmer. Eve doesn't think so of course. She sees him as he is - a selfish boy who doesn't have a care in the world. You see the way the wealthy might have viewed people in a lower class during the late nineteenth to twentieth century. The Earl of Netherwood can't quite understand why mine worker strikes happen because what can they complain about really? More frequent accidents start occurring throughout the book and I feel like this is going to be interesting when it is addressed. The Earl is actually a very nice person considering other people who employ mine workers. The bleak contrast you see between the lives of his family and the way Eve's family lives... I don't know why I expected some kind of outburst from Eve basically saying look at your lives and look at ours. Do really not see a problem with the way we live compared to the way you do? The way Eve's character was, confident and humble, just made me annoyed even more about the way Tobias acted - like he deserved everything he would inherit but with none of the responsibility. His sister, Henrietta or Henry for short, was one of the only redeeming qualities of that family. She's as spirited and freethinking as Eve was.

I want to make note of Ana - Eve's friend. The way they met each other and fell into each other lives seemed to be destined. Their friendship was one of my favorite parts of this book. They are like sisters or kindred spirits that needed to find one another. They balance each other out well. Their friendship did wonders to the story and it wouldn't have been the same without them together. I'm overly thrilled to see a relationship built on mutual respect between two women in a story like this one. In the end Netherwood is a story I usually wouldn't pick up but I'm thankful that I had the sense to ask to read it because I feel like it will broaden my reading to new adventures. I also really loved Eve as a main character and I would like to know where the sequel takes her from the last pages of this book. It's going to be amazing. ( )
  AdrianaGarcia | Jul 10, 2018 |
Not a worthy successor to 'Downton Abbey' I'm always wary of books/movies/shows that get the comparison of "if you like X then you'll love Y!". It's not that the new product is necessarily bad in quality but sometimes I just end up building expectations that I really shouldn't. Even if years have passed I'll still find myself disappointed because the comparisons shouldn't be made.
 
And so it was here. The ratings aren't terrible but definitely not necessarily in the realm of telling me that it's GOOD (and even high ratings or prize nominations/awards are necessarily an indicator of quality either). But the premise sounded something like DA and after researching various works I thought it might be something that would pass as a book version of the show. Not so much.
 
There is an upstairs/downstairs divide and the book mostly focuses on Eve, the wife of the estate's employees. She and her family suffer a terrible tragedy and Eve must find her way in this world without support to provide for both her family and a charity case. Meanwhile we also get the shenanigans of the upstairs family of Lord Netherwood, a coal baron. His son, Tobias, is a reckless young man who is clearly not ready to undertake further responsibilities of the house and the "upstairs" plots follows the family dynamics, Toby's exploits and the interactions between the upstairs/downstairs divide. 
 
Other reviews say that it's very cookie-cutter and I think that's very apt. A lot of the characters are cliched (woman must manage a household during a time when women usually had very limited prospects without a husband, the oldest son is a rake, the daughter is a spunk who is ahead of her time, etc.). I also think the book is just too long with too much padding. With my own personal bias I also hoped the book would be more equal or focus more on the "upstairs" family because I just found their stories more interesting. Eve was sympathetic but I wouldn't have chosen to give so much weight of the book's storyline to her.
 
There's perhaps an interesting tale here, but with the one dimensional, predictable characters with a boring story that could have been lifted from DA, it takes a talented writer to make it interesting. This wasn't. This wasn't going to be some grand sprawling epic but it does feel like an attempt to cash in on the DA hype without the clever writing or dialogue that kept the show going (not to mention these characters also don't have the benefit of spectacular actors to give them life).
 
I ended up buying the sequel at the same time because they were bargain books but in retrospect I should have stuck to my usual wait and see. I'll skim through the sequel to see how it ends but I'd say skip this one. Library if you're interested but I wouldn't rush out to read it. ( )
  acciolibros | Feb 11, 2018 |
The early years of the twentieth century were years full of change and promise for a new reality. Trade unions were becoming more prevalent in Britain. There were more opportunities for social mobility even far from major cities. The whole complexion of society was changing and rapidly; indeed, the world as a whole was changing. Jane Sanderson's novel Netherwood, set in Yorkshire, captures one corner of the world in which these changes were occurring.

Arthur and Eve Williams are contented in their lives. They have a happy marriage and three young children. Arthur is a miner in one of the Earl of Netherwood's collieries and Eve is a fastidious housewife. The Earl is a benevolent mine owner known for treating his employees well. Arthur and Eve go about their raising their children, work, and the daily realities of their lives generally cheerfully, involved in the life of the community. When Eve hears that the miners in another town, not so lucky as to work for good owners, are striking, she is determined to help them, especially since it is the depressed town where she grew up and was lucky enough to escape. Arthur is less certain about any sort of activism or support but when the local minister asks if the Williams' can temporarily house a young Russian widow and her baby, Arthur is the one to agree. But then tragedy strikes.

It is only thanks to the presence of Anna Rabinovitch, a woman who has lost even more than Eve, that Eve can find the courage to go on. And it is Anna who suggests that Eve's talent, and the thing that will keep her family afloat in the terrible aftermath of tragedy, is her skilled and delectable cooking. So Eve opens her door, selling pies and puddings to other local families. As she makes a success of it, she comes to the attention of the Hoyland family (the Earl of Netherwood's family name) and she starts a rather meteoric rise thanks to her industry, Anna's support and encouragement and the financial backing of the Earl.

Alternating with the story of the working class Eve, is the very different world of the aristocratic Hoylands, introducing the Earl and Countess of Netherwood and their children, the feckless, good-time heir Toby, his eminently capable older sister Henrietta, and their carefree (Dickie) and spoiled (Isabella) younger siblings. The Earl loves Netherwood, both his magnificent family home and the town, and he has a very vested interest in seeing the townsfolk succeed and lead happy lives since so many of them are his employees at the mines. But he is adamantly opposed to allowing his workers to unionize as so many around them are doing. He despairs of his son ever taking an interest in the land and the people for whom he holds a responsibility, only occasionally noting that it is a shame that daughter Henrietta hadn't been born a son as she is far more suited to the job of future earl than her brother. The Countess is a delicate creature who loves London far more than Netherwood and indulges in sudden enthusiasms, following the fashion of society.

Eve's worries (will she be able to pay her rent, how can she expand her business, is her son accepting Arthur's death and Anna's advent in their lives, and can she maintain just a friendship with miner Amos when he wants to give her his heart) are mainly of a far different ilk than the worries facing the Hoyland family (will Toby ever mature, why doesn't the King want to come to visit Netherwood, who should Toby marry, will Henrietta marry, where should the Earl invest some of his considerable fortune) highlighting the gulf between the two halves of society. But despite their differences, Eve's life and the Hoylands' lives are inextricably bound together, especially once the Earl invests in the expansion of her business, becoming a patron of sorts. And it is this interconnectedness that drives the latter half of the novel.

Sanderson has kept a light hand when writing about the emerging issues of classism and feminism, choosing to draw her characters, upper and lower class both, sympathetically. She does have a thread of social commentary running throughout the novel, in the character of Amos and his desire to unionize the miners, but as he's not the focus of the novel coupled with the fact that the Earl is generally a decent employer, this minimizes the importance of the labor movement to the storyline. Despite this, the novel is heavily weighted in its focus on the working class in the character of Eve and her surprisingly easily achieved success. But she's such an appealing character, as are the other main characters as well as the secondary characters, that this can be overlooked. It's a bit slow to start but once the reader gets into the novel a ways, the story becomes more compelling and harder to put down. Those who enjoy historical sagas will certainly appreciate this one as there's a little humor, some sadness, and a lot of pluck in these well-written pages. And for fans of series, the sequel is available and a third has already been released in the UK. ( )
  whitreidtan | Jan 15, 2014 |
I first became intrigued with this book when it was released shortly before Christmas last year, at the height of Downton Abbey mania in Australia. What Downton fan wouldn’t be immediately interested in a book that proclaimed that it was just perfect for them? Before you click ‘buy’, please let me tell you that this is not an upstairs/downstairs drama focusing on the community of one ‘great’ house.

Oh no. It’s so much more than that. That’s where I think people looking for Downton-in-a-book will be disappointed at being misled, so please stop comparing them. Netherwood is more than able to stand on its own two feet and make the claim of being warm, funny, heart wrenching yet lovable.

Also, Netherwood is the title of the grand house that sits over the Yorkshire village. Eve is our protagonist of the book, the husband of a coal miner. The mine provides work for the surrounding villages and most of its residents live almost hand to mouth while the rich live it up away from town. When a tragedy hits Eve, she is forced to think of a way to keep her little family fed and safe. With the help of Anna, a Russian immigrant, Eve starts baking pies which achieve her fame that she would never have dreamed of. She captures the attention of the Lord, who has his own problems with a troublesome son and a forward daughter…

It’s the warmth and can-do spirit of Eve that really puts this book in a league beyond your average historical fiction. Eve is feisty yet realistic, positive yet fallible. She takes things on the chin and strives to be the best she can, which results in the reader cheering her on. The supporting characters are also funny yet flawed, such as Anna and her English, Tobias – son of the Lord, yet a cad who just might have a heart and Lord Hoyland, who knows things are turning sour but is trying to right things in his own fashion.

This book did take me a little while to get into, but I think that was because I was sulkily expecting Downton Abbey. Once I fell in love with Eve’s determination, that was it. I simply couldn’t put this book down. Between the calamities that befall various characters, it really is quite optimistic – some would say things go a little too well for Eve. The setting isn’t highly detailed – you’ll be disappointed if you’re looking for extended historical descriptions – but it’s a relaxed read where the story just gathers you up.

A sequel, Ravenscliffe, was released last week. I’m planning to read it over the Christmas break to see how tensions between the characters develop further in big, greedy chunks. I know it won’t disappoint!

http://samstillreading.wordpress.com ( )
  birdsam0610 | Oct 1, 2012 |
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Above stairs, Lord Netherwood keeps his considerable fortune ticking over with the profits from his three coal mines in the vicinity. It's just as well the coal is of the highest quality, as the upkeep of Netherwood Hall, his splendid estate on the outskirts of town, does not come cheap. And that's not to mention the cost of keeping his wife and daughters in the latest fashions—and keeping the heir, the charming but feckless Tobias, out of trouble. Below stairs, Eve Williams is the wife of one of Lord Netherwood's most stalwart employees. When her ordered existence amid the terraced rows of the miners' houses is brought crashing down by the twin arrivals of tragedy and charity, Eve must look to her own self-sufficiency, and talent, to provide for her three young children. And it's then that "upstairs" and "downstairs" collide in truly dramatic fashion.
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Yorkshire, 1904. Eve Williams is about to discover just how the other half really live. Above stairs, Lord Hoyland keeps his considerable fortune ticking over with the profits from his three coal mines in the vicinity. It's just as well the coal is of the highest quality as the upkeep of Netherwood Hall doesn't come cheap.… (more)

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