- Includes real historical figures: Karl Marx and Frederick (Friedrich) Engels.
- An unforgettable first-person female narrator: Lizzie Burns, the illiterate common-law wife of Frederick Engels. She's an Irish woman who grew up working in the mills of Manchester.
- All the small details that bring nineteenth-century England alive.
- Expands my view of women's lives in other places and other times.
Following are a couple of excerpts to give you an idea of McCrea's flair.
"Mary used to say my feet were like boats, that in the last detail God mixed me up with Moss, whose dainty little yokes keep him upright only with the help of the angels. I follow the girl's gander down to them - my boat-feet - and we stand together a minute, marvelling at their reach: several long inches over the threshold, and solid as blocks, hobnails like rods, no hope of closing a door against them.
Defeated, she lets me in."
At a communist party meeting in London after the fall of the Paris Commune in 1871:
"Karl lumbers off and Frederick gets back up to take questions. They come in the guise of insults, most of them. But Frederick is quick with the right responses, just enough honour and sincerity to take the sting out of the attacks. He doesn't get riled, nor does he resort to insults himself, and this--when he has the public to himself--is when he's at his most seducing. He can handle his words like no one else, and even if you don't catch their meaning first time, you hold on to them, somewhere, they've been said with so much believing."
Complex lives in a rich historical setting. It's fabulous.