Synopses & Reviews
Longlisted for The Guardian 2015 First Book Award
Richly imagined.”starred review, Publishers Weekly
This is the best kind of historical fiction."Lucy Scholes, The Independent
"Who knew reading about communists could be so much fun?"starred review, Kirkus Reviews
Very little is known about Lizzie Burns, the illiterate Irishwoman and longtime lover of Frederick Engels, coauthor of The Communist Manifesto. In Gavin McCreas first novel, the unsung Lizzie is finally given a voice that wont be forgotten.
Lizzie is a poor worker in the Manchester, England, mill that Frederick owns. When they move to London to be closer to Karl Marx and family, she must learn to navigate the complex landscapes of Victorian society. We are privy to Lizzies intimate, wry views on Marx and Engelss mission to spur revolution among the working classes, and to her ambivalence toward her newly luxurious circumstances. Lizzie is haunted by her first love (a revolutionary Irishman), burdened by a sense of duty to right past mistakes, and torn between a desire for independence and the pragmatic need to be cared for.
Yet despite or because of their profound differences, Lizzie and Frederick remain drawn to each other in this complex, high-spirited love story.
"McCrea's richly imagined debut novel is narrated by Irishwoman Lizzie Burns, the longtime lover of The Communist Manifesto coauthor Frederick Engels. In 1870, the couple leaves Manchester (where the wealthy Engels family once employed Lizzie at their cotton mill) to reside in London. Lizzie's new life is opulent but empty: she is uncomfortable with upper-class society and excluded from most of Frederick's activities, including his cerebral efforts to liberate her own class. Struggling to find a purpose, Lizzie seeks out her old flame, the Irish radical Moss O'Malley, whose cause always needs funds. She attempts to help the illegitimate son that Frederick had two decades before and seems to have forgotten. Even as she fights for others, Lizzie nurses wounds of her own: she longs to be married, despite Frederick's disdain for such conventions, and she fears that he will never forget her deceased sister Mary, who was his former lover. McCrae gives the illiterate Lizzie a vivid, convincing voice, sparkling with energy and not untouched by pathos. Her sharp, pragmatic observations offer a human perspective on historical icons (Marx has boils, while Engels is overwhelmed by letters from his mother). But the heart of the novel is the beautifully realized romance between Lizzie and Frederick: a mismatch of values and temperaments, yet also a tender and complex bond." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A terrific, startling read: compelling cast, involving story, historically transporting. Gavin McCrea has found an original and atmospheric way of giving resonant voice to the unsung Lizzie Burns. Beguiling, humorous, terrifyingly candid, clandestine agent in a world of hazardous political intrigue and the equally risky complexities of desire and love, McCreas Lizzie Burns is an enthralling character who pulls us irresistibly into her fascinating world from her first words to her last.” - Rachel Holmes, author of Eleanor Marx: A Life
"Gavin McCrea has in his debut novel, Mrs. Engels, done something I admirehe has found a character from a pivotal point in history whom I hadn't thought much about before, and with wit and humor and force settled her into my mind to stay." - Daniel Woodrell, author of Winter's Bone
"Lizzie Burns is a magnificent creation, worthy of comparison to Joyce's Molly Bloom or Beckett's Winnie--her voice spills beyond the pages of the book, endless, vital, witty, and enduring." - Rebecca Stott, author of the New York Times bestselling Ghostwalk
"Gavin McCreas witty, fictional interpretation of the women who loved Engels crackles and fizzes with life . . . Lizzie Burnss narration is wonderfully yet lightly stylized, and this is an excellent debut.” - Francesca Rhydderch, author of The Rice Paper Diaries, winner of the Wales Book of the Year
Fiction Prize 2014
About the Author
was born in Dublin in 1978 and has since travelled widely, living in New York, Japan, and Italy, among other places. He holds an M.A. from University College Dublin, and an M.A. and a Ph.D. from the University of East Anglia. He currently lives in London, England and northern Spain.