Review Blog

Oct 19 2016

Hester and Harriet by Hilary Spiers

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Allen and Unwin, 2015. ISBN 9781925266412
(Age: Secondary-adult) Highly recommended. Crime fiction. Humour. Asylum seekers. England. Two widowed sisters, Harriet and Hester, live together in a small cottage in an equally small village in the south of England. When one night they see their local homeless man, Finbar in some distress they find that there is a young woman and a baby in his living quarters, the local bus shelter. They take the girl in, keeping her warm, and feeding her, finding that she has a limited grasp of English and is very scared. At the same time, their nephew Ben, lands on their door step, having run away from home. They must give shelter to all three guests and find that the wayward and taciturn Ben, who in the past has caused some upset within the family, has skills never before known. He is able to talk to Daria, and look after her son, Milo, and even more surprising, finds a talent for cooking.
Problems compound when the women realise that someone has been in their house and Finbar attacked, while a strange man has knocked at their door, asking awkward questions.
The characters are a treat: each pedantic about the use of their language, correcting Ben without a second thought, while homeless Finbar is a classically educated man using Latin phrases. All three have a wonderful grasp of language adding to the pleasure gained in reading. When the women find that their houseguest has no passport and has run away from where she was working in London, only to be taken in by another couple with suspect motives, their impetus to get in touch with the police is stalled by Ben's revelations.
They begin to be aware of Daria's untenable status in this country and resolve to protect her, while at the same time keeping themselves safe.
This is a beguiling read but beneath the word play, humour and mocking tone lies a plea for refugees, asylum seekers, displaced people and those for whom home is no longer a safe place. Through finding out more of Daria's situation in England her legal rights are brought to the fore, giving the readers a firm basis of fact, enlisting their sympathy for people in this position.
Fran Knight

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