Book Review: Woman Enters Left by Jessica Brockmole

1952. Louise Wilde’s movie career and marriage have stalled when she learns she’s inherited the entire estate of screenwriter Florence Daniels, a woman she never met. Her confusion grows when she discovers old photographs of Daniels with her late mother, Ethel.

1926. Friends Ethel Wild and Florrie Daniels embark on a cross-country adventure. Florrie is going to start a new life working in Hollywood, while Ethel wants to reach her husband in Nevada who is intent on a divorce. Diary entries, letters and film scripts all reveal that the most profound journeys rarely follow a map.

What I Thought:

Despite reading and loving Letters from Skye, I’m ashamed to say that it took me an inordinately long time to pick up Jessica Brockmole’s Woman Enters Left.

As with Letters from Skye, Woman Enters Left is a dual-history novel but here, we follow three women making emotional and almost last-ditch journeys across the US in two very different time periods. In the first, the 1920s are still roaring and women are starting to take charge of their own lives and make demands of their families, their employers and their society while in the second, women have made strides into independence, but the shadow of McCarthyism looms long. The image of the perfect housewife is making a post-war comeback, despite the many other things that women may have to offer.

The lives of Louise Wilde, her mother Ethel, and Florence Daniels are slowly revealed through a combination of letters, diaries and prose and I love that approach. It gives a much more intimate feel to the book as we learnt the innermost thoughts of the characters in a diary entry, but see what they have to hide from the recipient of a letter. I’ll never get tired of these types of novels; ones that seem to have been made up of historical documents.

Although this novel is primarily an intimate portrayal of the three women, the historical format also allows the author to touch on some social history too when we discover – and Louise discovers – that her mother and Florrie were radium girls; those women who were employed to paint watch dials with radium and, while licking the paint brushes to a fine point, ingested high levels of radium. While they were assured that this was safe, their employers were lying to them and when the women began to get sick, they tried to make the whole thing disappear.

This case is both fascinating and tragic as these women who had a first taste of freedom in having a reasonably well-paid job, outside of service, ended up dying earlier than they should have through criminal negligence. I’ve linked here to the Wiki article, but there is plenty more to find out on the internet and there was also a film released in 2018.

What I love about the two books of Jessica Brockmole’s that I’ve read is the personal relationships. Although there are big issues touched upon in the book, ultimately two women try to hang on to what remains of their marriages no matter the cost, no matter how far they have to travel and it’s this aspect that really shines through for me.

Woman Enters Left is published by Allison & Busby.

You can find out more about Jessica Brockmole and her work on her website or, alternatively, why not connect with her on Twitter?

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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