Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Sunday 15 July 2012

The Sugar Girls - Duncan Barrett & Nuala Calvi

Tales of Hardship, Love and Happiness in Tate & Lyle's East End

'The nervous 14-year-old who had stood outside the gates of the factory had gone. Ethel was a sugar girl now.'

This lovely book gives us an insider view into the world of women working at Tate & Lyle's factories in the East End of London during the twentieth century.

In particular, it focuses on the stories of four women, Ethel, Lillian, Gladys and Joan, delivering their memories and thoughts about the time they spent working hard at the factories, how their days were filled, how their lives were shaped, the hopes and dreams they held dear, the experiences that have stayed with them from those times past. Each of the women has their own attributes, characteristics and individual personalities that come through in the storytelling.

This reminds us of how incredibly hard times were in the past, how you had to make-do and mend, people started work younger then, worked long hours, and had to grow up fast. There was poverty, hunger, illness and loss to be endured. But their days were of course not without humour, and their lives were not without love, and within these stories are recollections about work and life outside work that are entertaining and moving. 

The authors have clearly undertaken a huge amount of research behind the scenes to bring this book to us. The stories belong to the women, the sugar girls, who lived and worked back then, but the authors have succeeded in creating a compelling narrative from these memories, and the past has been brought to life. This may be non-fiction and be informative and factual to an extent, but it is at the same time a very readable collection of stories that flow so well and immerse the reader in the atmosphere and lifestyle of the times.

This book offers us a rich depiction of a part of our country's social history and heritage before, during and after World War II, preserving the memories of some wonderful ladies, depecting the camerarderie amongst the workers, and portraying the sense of community of those living and working around Silvertown back then that has now been lost. 

I enjoyed this journey into the past accompanied by these fascinating, fabulous sugar girls, and found it a very engaging and interesting snapshot into their lives. 

There is a super website here to go with the book, where you can find out more about the history, the workers and the authors.

Published by Collins, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

Thank you very much to the publisher and the authors for sending me a copy of this novel to read and review.


  1. That sounds really interesting - thanks for the review :-)

    1. Thanks Rachel. It is an interesting book, I enjoyed finding out about totally different lives :)

  2. I kept seeing this on the kindle bestseller list for a while. I was born in the East End and lived there for most of my childhood, so I guess I should read it!

    1. I think the stories may also be available individually on kindle as well as together in this one book. Could be particularly interesting for you if you know the neighbourhood. x

  3. Fab review Lins. I really enjoyed this too x


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