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Walkers Nurseries Book Club – The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel SimonThe Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

Another book that split the reading group.
The book starts with a young white woman, Lynnie and her black man friend, Homan, appearing at the door of a widow, Martha, living in an isolated farm, in the middle of a storm. Martha lets them in and then finds they have a new born baby. Shortly after the police arrive to return the pair to the nearby School for the Incurable and Feebleminded, the police manage to capture Lynnie, but Homan escapes and the child is left with the widow. These are the four central characters in the book, and we follow their lives over some 40 years.
One of the assistants at the school realises that Lynnie has a talent for art and takes her under her wing and teaches her to read and write and encourages her drawing. By means of the drawings she gets Lynnie to outline what happened when she escaped. Eventually the cruelty at the school was exposed by the press, the school was closed and Lynnie was moved to sheltered accommodation.
Martha moves away from the farm to avoid the child being returned to the school and we follow her blossoming as she breaks free from her increasingly lonely life. She moves between old friends, sharing their lives and eventually finding a new partner. As part of this we get glimpses of the child, Julia, growing up.
We follow Homan as he gradually builds a new life, becoming more self-assured and respected.
Generally, the group felt that the book dealt with important social issues about asylums and their treatment of the people inside them. However, they felt that after the exciting start it rather lost its way before a very neat ending, although this appeared to come a bit out of the blue.
The book seems to follow the progression of Lynnie and Homan, but it was felt that the more interesting story may have been the relationship of Martha and Julia as Julia grows up.
One of the members in the group has experience in this field and thought that the book rather simplified the real story. Not all asylums were bad, and for some people they were a better fit. Also Care in the Community has not been an unqualified success.
The group average score was 5 out of 10, but some people rated it highly.
John Scutt August 2017

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