Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Title: Family Likeness
Author: Caitlin Davies
Publisher: Hutchinson
Publication Date: July 4, 2013
Genre: Historical Fiction
Reviewed by: Margitte
Source: Received for review from NetGalley
Margitte’s smiley rating: 5/5


A vivid and affecting novel of loss, hope and long-held secrets set in the 1950's and the present day.

What do we really inherit from our family? Is blood always thicker than water?

In a small Kent town in the 1950s, a bewildered little girl is growing up. Ostracised because of her colour, she tries her best to fit in, but nobody wants anything to do with her.

A nanny climbs the steps of a smart London address. She’s convinced that her connection to the family behind the door is more than professional. 

And on the walls of an English stately home, amongst the family portraits, hangs an eighteenth-century oil painting of a mysterious black woman in a silk gown.

In ways both poignant and unexpected, the three lives are intertwined in a heartbreaking story of prejudice and motherless children, of chances missed, of war time secrets and the search for belonging...


It takes only one descendant to get angry enough to demand access to strictly confidential war records and by doing that opens up a Pandora's box of hurt, prejudice, race discrimination and the stories of the lost children, victims of the Second World War.

Rosie Grey secretly gets a job as a nanny in an affluent London family, Pembleton Crescent 68, taking care of Ella and Bobby, the two children of Jonas Murrey. She starts writing a diary, while her mom, Muriel Wilson, unbeknownst to what her daughter is up to, is also finally piecing her own life story together. The well-written tale takes the reader through the 'underworld', or rather 'under-war' of the casualties of war who were not honored with monuments and national holidays. Their stories were, in fact, stored deeply away in government offices all over the world for too many years. 

The book deeply touched me. I have met so many 'half-casts' in my work. They were not war orphans like Muriel Wilson, but their war was a vicious social one brought about by a political system forced upon them. Like the 'illegitimate' WWII-orphans, they did not have a vote or any rights to change it, until much later in their lives. For many of them it was too late, but they enabled next generations to receive a better, and much more human deal in life by fighting back. 

All children who are denied their rights to know their parents, have benefited from the work of these courageous, often angry, descendants. They took a stand and won against the higher powers. These people in high offices who determined their lives, never personally witnessed the results of their self-serving decisions. None of us will ever be okay with discrimination against us, why do we expect other people to be happy with it and disallow them a choice in the decisions that will destroy their lives!

Family Likeness is giving these children their voices on so many levels. Apart from enjoying this well-constructed book, a riveting fast moving narrative, it was an emotional ride through the lives of two remarkable women who not only endured much in their lives, but also learnt the power of giving in order to receive. They will change all the lives of the people they meet. They have changed mine as well. 

An excellent read! A beautiful, gripping, compassionate story of family and hope. Finally, a monument to these beautiful innocent children. I strongly recommend this book!



Caitlin Davies is a writer, teacher and journalist, the author of five novels and four non-fiction books, including the memoir Place of Reeds.
Many of her early books were inspired by the 12 years she spent in Botswana. Her more recent books draw on the stories and history of north London, including Taking the Waters, about the bathing ponds and lido on Hampstead Heath, The Ghost of Lily Painter, based on the true story of two Edwardian baby farmers, Camden Lock and the Market, a social history of the famous market, and Family Likeness, in which a character becomes intrigued by the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle ‘Britain’s first black aristocrat’ who lived at Kenwood in the 1700s. 


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