The Colour of Milk
by Nell Leyshon
2014/ 176 pages
rating 8.5 / historical fiction
At only 176 pages, this is a novella, really, but those are often the best size for a deceptively simple story, well told, where every word counts. I often enjoy short stories and novellas for this very reason.
Mary, the crippled and basically illiterate 1st person narrator, is writing this account in 1831 of her life in 1830-31 when she was 14 and 15 years old. As the tale starts, Mary, is living with her poverty-stricken parents and three older sisters on their farm somewhere in England. Mary’s life consists of work and avoiding her father’s wrath. But summer comes and Mary is hired out by her father to the local vicar to help in his house and with his ailing wife. This is a whole different world from what Mary has ever known, but certain foreshadowing makes the reader understand it will not necessarily be entirely for the better.
The language is very simple using country-girl words and phrases in short sentences with no capitalization. This was a bother to me until about page 50 when I realized that no matter how it seemed kind of gimmicky on the surface, it did set off Mary’s ignorance (NOT stupidity!), naiveté and simplicity as well as, perhaps, the times. The chapters, named for the seasons, and the tropes are also completely in keeping with the 19th century agricultural nature of the tale.