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Fair Exchange by Michele Roberts

I had never read anything by this respected and prolific writer before but was so delighted I have already started on another of her books. It is set in France and in England, in the late eighteenth century and tells the story of two women bearing children out of wedlock in the fluctuating time of revolution, rights and continuing conventionality. There's a hidden secret, not revealed until the end, and much of the story is carried by the 'servant' Louise. Mary Wollstonecraft has a peripheral role and there is a Wordsworthian character who, like most of the men in the book, is less than admirable.
I loved the quality of the writing. There is a scene where the reserved and anxious Annette, pregnant with the poet's baby, is stirring a pan of redcurrants. The seething, boiling mass of red is so beautifully evoked as a representation of her inner turmoil and passion that I read it over and over.
Roberts deals with the predicament facing a variety of women of slender means in an era which hoped to open up the opportunities available to them, but which by and large raised as many difficulties as has existed before.

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