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The Nanny at Number 43 by Nicola Cassidy

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Article by Swirl and Thread ©.
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‘Be Careful Who You Let Into Your Home.’

When blogger and writer Nicola Cassidy took a local history tour of her home town in Drogheda, Co. Louth she had no idea that a passing tale, told by the guide, would inspire her second novel.

The Nanny at Number 43 was published in July with Poolbeg Press and, although the book is fiction, Nicola Cassidy was influenced in her writing by the historical facts she uncovered during her research.

In reading the press release for The Nanny at Number 43, I was really intrigued with Nicola’s words.

‘I was fascinated by this society (Ireland in the 1800s). When I looked into it, I found numerous accounts where babies had been concealed, hidden, abandoned to perish and in the worst cases locked into suitcases and stored out of sight. One child had even been found alive and its mother had been going out to the ditch to feed it. They were very, very sad cases and it’s what inspired the opening scene in my novel.’ – Nicola Cassidy

Can you imagine this extreme behaviour, in many cases borne out of the pure desperation of a mother unable to cope with another mouth to feed, or perhaps the terrible stigma of the time associated with illegitimacy. But what would drive someone to do this intentionally?

Nicola Cassidy has taken this idea and wrapped a very sinister tale around it. With a very dramatic opening, we are witness to a suitcase being dug up in the garden of a country dwelling. A family have just purchased it, delighted to leave the tenements of Dublin city behind them. This house was to be a new beginning for them, a place where their children would thrive. But now their house is to be surrounded by curious onlookers, neighbours and officials as an immediate investigation is opened up on discovery of the bodies of two small babies inside the case.

Meanwhile in Drogheda, William D. Thomas is grieving the passing of his adored wife during childbirth. Struggling to manage with a newborn and his grief, he places an advert in the paper in search of a nanny.

‘Drogheda Conservative, January 1880
WANTED

A Respectable Woman to Take Charge
of a Motherless Child
Three Weeks Old
To Bottle-feed it
Liberal Terms Will Be Given
Apply to W.D. Thomas
43 Laurence Street, Drogheda’

A Nanny does arrive to Laurence Street and with the initial charm of Mary Poppins, she is hired for the job. The master is very happy with his decision. The Nanny is a capable individual and has previous experience of working with children. She immediately sets her position in the house with very little respect or time for the other two members of the Thomas household staff. One of these is a Mrs McHugh.

Mrs. McHugh has been working for the Thomas’ household for many years. She has taken great care of the family and is distraught that her mistress has passed on. She has attempted to keep things afloat and is more than willing to share the load with a new pair of hands. But immediately Mrs McHugh gets a feeling that something is just not right. She confides in her friend, Betty, who is bedridden and lives nearby. Betty is the eyes and ears on the street. Having lived there for many years and originally run ‘the local’ with her now dead husband, Betty knows everyone and everything.

As the days pass, Mrs McHugh is more convinced than ever that all is most certainly not right with the new Nanny but who will believe her?

Nicola Cassidy has created a wonderful character. The Nanny is a very dark and mysterious individual. Carrying her own past very close to her chest, she is focused on her endgame with little compassion for those she may hurt along the way. But why? What happened in her early years? What tragedy befell her?

The Nanny at Number 43 is a menacing tale with a very tragic storyline for many of the individuals involved. Nicola Cassidy stated that she wanted to see if she could ‘draw a character that the reader, in parts, could sympathise with’ and she has. Those were very different times, very hard tough days for many and Nicola Cassidy paints a very vivid picture indeed.

The Nanny at Number 43 is all the more poignant and tragic due to the inspiration behind it. Infanticide is a tragedy on an enormous scale and in this novel, we are witness to the shocking impact this can have on others. There are very distressing scenes in the opening pages with the smells lifting off the pages as ‘he pulled back the lid slowly and….a powerful stench filled the air’ It’s very easy to visualise the horror, the fear, the pure panic following such a discovery.

The Nanny herself is a very complex and brilliantly depicted character. She garnered my sympathy and my disgust as I bore witness to her actions and as her past was slowly revealed.

The Nanny at Number 43 is an emotive read. It’s a fascinating interpretation and twist of historical facts and is another impressive novel from Nicola Cassidy.

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.