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The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon

The Colour of Milk (edition 2012)

by Nell Leyshon

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1551077,049 (4.06)11
Title:The Colour of Milk
Authors:Nell Leyshon
Info:Fig Tree (2012), Hardcover, 176 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Read 2012, Vine, Garage

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The Colour Of Milk by Nell Leyshon



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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
There are plenty of reasons to suspect, right from the beginning, that something bad is going to happen to the 15-year-old narrator, but there are at least three potential sources for danger to her, and we don’t really know from whence it will come.

It’s 1831, and Mary, 15, is the youngest daughter of four girls, with a bad leg and hair the color of milk. Her cold father keeps the girls working constantly on their farm, beating them when he thinks they are slacking off. Somehow Mary retains a positive outlook on life, even though her sisters and mother are cruel to her. Only her crippled grandfather (also mistreated by the rest of the family) has any regard for Mary.

After a particularly violent beating from her father, Mary is “sold” to the Vicar over the hill to be a caretaker for his ailing wife. There, she is offered a chance to learn to read and write, and she eagerly accepts. But there is a price to pay, and it is beyond reckoning.

Discusson: The story is told as if it were a diary or letter by Mary, in her barely literate form, viz:

" i don’t like to tell you all this. there are things i do not want to say.

but i told my self i would tell you everything that happened. i said i would say it all and for this i must do it.”

The tone is absolutely compelling, with an edge of danger and dread from the very beginning. Mary is a glorious source of sunlight in the middle of a horrifying dark and disturbing tale.

Evaluation: This is excellent literature, and the story will haunt you. Like Emma Donoghue’s Room, you want to cover your eyes as the truth unfolds, yet you can’t look away. This short book is worth your time; highly recommended. ( )
  nbmars | Jun 24, 2014 |
Written in the first-person through the eyes of fourteen year old, Mary. The book is written with sparse punctuation (none of the sentences begin with capital letters), in simple language, and from a cut-to-the-chase perspective. This non-embellished style reflects Mary's age and class, but I think also, that it is the author, Nell Leyshon's way of experimenting with untraditional styles of prose, as many contemporary forms favour the minimalistic use of language. Unfortunately, this results in lack of details in story features such as characterisation, setting, and plot, so that the novel falls short of the depth factor that really draws the reader in. Hence, I was well aware throughout the story that I was just a reader, an outsider observing, rather than feeling as if I were in, or part of the story. If the book was stretched out into a full novel, the story and plot would have been richer. However, in saying all this, Leyshon is quite skillful in bringing the most out of the minimalism writing approach. Portrayal of themes such as poverty, adolescence, and farm life were vivid, and invoked sympathy and admiration for the protagonist. Furthermore, straight after reading the book, I found myself thinking about Mary and her farm life everyday for about a week. All in all, 'The Colour of Milk' is a bold and beautiful read. ( )
  Ria_Vao | Apr 7, 2014 |
Lacking depth.

I have just finished reading this novella (just 175pages) and it has left me feeling a bit short-changed. I loved the voice of Mary, the feisty farm girl who is sent to help the vicar with his ailing wife. The writing style, with no capital letters and Mary's distinctive voice, were well suited to their purpose. But not enough happened and, other than Mary's, the characterisations felt sparse.

The narrative is set mainly in 1830. Mary is 14, and the youngest of four girls who must do the job of boys on their father's farm. She also has a 'gammy' leg. So it is little wonder that she is the one chosen to help the vicar's wife when her father is offered employment for one of his daughters. She gradually adapts to life at the vicarage, though she misses her family on the farm, particularly her beloved Grandfather.

This is an interesting snapshot of life on a farm in the first half of the nineteenth century, and the contrast with that at the vicarage, but not much more. Mary's honesty verges on unbelievably cheeky and would surely have earned her swift reprimand in most households at that time. What happens when she learns to read lacks originality and the outcome is no surprise either.

In my opinion this should have been fleshed out to a full novel, with more in depth characters. Then, by the time I felt I knew Mary better, perhaps the ending would have carried more weight for me. ( )
  DubaiReader | Jun 30, 2013 |
A farm in the 1830's, 4 girls live with their mother and their abusive father on a farm, where they are worked from sunup until sundown. The youngest, Mary, who is 14 is sent to help the local preacher with his wife who is ill. Mary is very special, it is her journal, her story we read, and it is written simply and rather starkly to reflect the circumstances in which she lives. Her reading and writing has come at a high cost to herself, but it is the one thing she can do to make her grandfather proud. It is her relationship with her grandfather that I feel is particularly poignant, it is where she gets most of the love that is in her young life. This book will not appeal to everyone but I do believe it will appeal to those who like Jessamyn Ward and Bonnie Jo Campbell. The ending did rather shock me, it was not at all what I was expecting. Not a happy ever after kind of book. ( )
1 vote Beamis12 | Feb 18, 2013 |
i am stopping now for i need to lay down and rest. there is much to tell for you need to know it all and then you will understand. my arm aches. my hand has the cramps. if i close my eyes i can go back and remember everything. – from The Colour of Milk -

Mary is fourteen, born with a crippled leg on a farm in England in the early part of the nineteenth century. When her story opens, the year is 1831. Mary and her three sisters are growing up under the iron hand of their brutal father. They slave in the fields all day, a thankless and endless job. It is Mary who stands up to her father’s rage, who speaks her mind, who cares deeply about her disabled grandfather who lives in the apple room. When Mary’s father sends her to live with a local vicar and his ill wife, Mary goes but not without protest. She now works as a housemaid and her wages go to her father. She sleeps in a bed beneath the eaves, rises early each day, and observes the new world of the vicarage which surprisingly offers her a chance to learn to read and write. But the joy of books comes with a price – one which will change Mary forever.

The Colour of Milk is written in the brave voice of Mary whose courage, humor, and spunk shine through her awkward sentences. Mary’s life is one of toil, yet she finds the beauty in fields and animals, the changing colors of the sky, and the simplicity of her life. She knows that life should be more, but she does not know how to label her dreams.

i watched as the sky changed its colours and the sun climbed upwards. when i stood up i could see the farm and the shape of the house and the lane and the fields. what was it i would dream if i could dream something and it would come true? what was it i would say if anyone ever asked me? i didn’t know. i knew i had dreams but i didn’t know what they were. - from The Colour of Milk -

The last thing Mary expects from life is the gift of reading and writing. The pain of being torn from her beloved grandfather and sisters and mother is eased initially by the simple joy of learning.

i looked along the lines till i found three of them. the the the. i closed the book and leaned over and blew out the candle. the smell of the taper was in the room. an owl called outside the window. - from The Colour of Milk -

As Mary’s words took me deeper into her life, I found myself feeling uneasy. It was clear she was writing retrospectively and as the end of her story grew near it began to vibrate with apprehension. And when the ending did come, it made me gasp.

I cannot say more about this book without ruining it for the reader. Leyshon’s writing is powerful, incredibly moving, and filled with a grace that many authors are not able to find in their prose. This is a penetrating and compelling look into the life of one young girl during a time in history when women were considered property and had no real rights. It is shocking, empathetic and provocative.

When I turned the final page of this slim novel, I had to sit for awhile allowing the power of Mary’s words to wash over me as tears welled in my eyes. I would not be surprised to see The Colour of Milk on the prize lists this year, but even if it is not recognized as the great literature that I think it is, it will certainly be on my list of best books read in 2013.

Highly, highly recommended. ( )
  writestuff | Jan 27, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
The Colour of Milk is written in short sentences, with longer passages joined by lots of ‘ands’. It appears to have the simplicity of a reading scheme. Which is precisely the point. Because this is a story about literacy – or the achieving of literacy. For Mary, the book’s narrator, the cost of gaining that knowledge is high.

Leyshon’s great skill in this novel is to convey both Mary’s outward personality and her inner thoughts through the same narrative voice. In Mary’s own concise reporting of events we see all her relationships in their nuanced colours.

The Colour of Milk starts deceptively quietly, describing a life of rural hardships and limited prospects, but bit by bit, letter by letter, it reveals a world of potential that is shattered by human fallibility.
The year is 1830. Fifteen-year-old Mary lives a life of toil and cheerlessness on her father's farm. Outspoken, witty and bold, she has one bad leg and white hair "the colour of milk", a phrase used as a refrain throughout, along with: "this is my book and I am writing it by my own hand."

Through the hardness, Leyshon evokes nature and the seasons with a poetic sensibility. This is where all the feeling is. The language has a biblical tinge, with many short passages and sentences beginning with "and" (there are hardly any capitals in the book). A constant flow of seasonal activity and reference to the natural world gives a bucolic flavour: "and in the morning and evening the mist layered and made the hills soft and the air thick"; "and Edna filled the kitchen with jars and pans and we were busy with the fruit and getting it into the jars, and harry dug up all the beetroot and carrots and onions and brought it to the back door and we laid it down in sandboxes and put it in the cold store and then we put the apples in the dark. and he sacked up the potatoes and we made sure the bags was tied and the light could not get in."
added by kidzdoc | editThe Guardian, Carol Birch (Jun 15, 2012)
"This is my book," writes a pale-haired farm girl in 1831, "every word i spelled out. every letter i wrote." Fourth daughter to a father who wanted sons, Mary is sent away from the drudgery of her family's farm to nurse the local vicar's weak-hearted wife. In the genteel, sun-filled rooms of the vicarage she learns to write, but it is there, too, that events take place that compel her to undertake her painstaking task.

Leyshon is a master of domestic suspense and the reasons for Mary's determination emerge tantalisingly slowly. A cannier cousin to Hardy's Tess – truculent and possessed of a sly wit – Mary is nevertheless in an invidious position: betrayed by weak-willed masters and, though gifted the means to tell her story, powerless to negotiate the cost at which her knowledge comes.

This is a deftly executed sketch of a lost geography: a story saved by an accident of fate that becomes part of the piercing irony at its heart. Slender but compelling, the charm of Leyshon's novella is to be found as much in its spare, evocative style as in the moving candour of its narrator.
added by kidzdoc | editThe Observer, Lettie Ransley (Jun 2, 2012)
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this is my book and i am writing it by my own hand.
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This is the tale of Mary, a simple farm girl, sent to care for the vicar's invalid wife but who discovers wonders in words - and terrors in life.
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Mary, the spirited youngest daughter of an angry, violent man, is sent to work for the local vicar and his invalid wife. Her strange new surroundings offer unsettling challenges, including the vicar's lecherous son and a manipulative fellow servant. But life in the vicarage also offers unexpected joys, as the curious young girl learns to read and write -- knowledge that will come at a tragic price.… (more)

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