The Fortune Maker
By Catherine Norton
Reviewed by Mia Macrossan
Norton made her debut in children’s fiction writing the acclaimed Crossing which was joint winner of the Patricia Wrightson’s prize in the 2015 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.
In The Fortune Maker she has written a taut historical novel about Maud, a 12 yr old girl living in grinding poverty in the London slums in 1913, who tries to make a new life for herself when her father dies.
In this alternate reality there are Seers, people who can tell fortunes, see the future and are feted and paid enormous sums of money for their work. When Maud becomes embroiled with the Awford family who think she can ‘See’, her life becomes a dramatic and ever changing series of captures and escapes that brings her in touch with suffragettes, scientists, criminals, actors, corrupt police and a desperate and conniving villain.
Maud teams up with Eleanor Awford, a girl who has no interest in a ‘being a lady’ but instead dreams of becoming a chemist. She finds a haven with Caroline, an idealist suffragette who wants to change the world to make it a better place for those who are poor and disenfranchised.
This is a story about taking charge of your destiny, of holding on to hope and fighting for a better future. Maud is uncertain about whether her gift is a blessing or a curse. She is attracted to the idea of being rich, famous and living in a grand mansion, but her visions are difficult to understand, and people, sometimes even her friends, make impossible demands.
Serious themes of grief and loss, gender roles, power and resilience underpin this adventure but never overburden this exhilarating roller coaster read.
The writing is assured, rich in historical detail, and enlivened by delightful insights into character. Mrs Wray telling Maud how her dad died ”They said it was a live elephant,’ she began, looking surprised to find herself uttering such a sentence. p21, or Maud ‘enjoying the noise her marching boots made on the stairs.’ p102.
I inhaled this book in one sitting and I think many others will do the same. This engrossing novel is perfect for Reader’s Cup and any school library. Its high production values indicate the publishers think they have a keeper and I agree with them.