Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Custard Tarts And Broken Hearts by Mary Gibson

Custard Tarts And Broken Hearts by Mary Gibson
Published by Head Of Zeus in May 2014.

How I got this book:
Swapped for at a campsite book exchange

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Britain, 1911.

Strikes and riots erupt countrywide as the shadow of the Great War looms over Europe. But in one small corner of London, factory girl Nellie Clark's wages are all that keep her younger brothers and sister from starvation.

And, as the young women of Pearce Duff's custard factory watch their menfolk prepare to march off to war, Nellie is forced to make a difficult choice: between the family who depend upon her, and the man she loves...

Following Nellie and her struggle through the hardship of life in First World War London, Custard Tarts and Broken Hearts is an outstandingly moving novel full of tenderness and drama.

This review was first blogged on Stephanie Jane in December 2015.
I found Custard Tarts And Broken Hearts in the book exchange at Broadgate Farm CL campsite in Lancashire. It is set in a similar time period to We That Are Left, but instead of focusing on the upper classes experiences of the First World War, this novel examines the lives of working women in Bermondsey, London.

Nellie, a young Bermondsey woman is one of the 'custard tarts' of the title - a worker at a custard powder packing factory. The women work eleven hour days with scarcely a break for half the pay of male staff and the beginning of this novel shows their struggle for basic working rights and equitable pay. Mary Gibson has incorporated a lot of her grandmother's experiences into her book and its historical aspects feel genuine and well-researched throughout. As in the recent film, Suffragette, Nellie suffers ostracism from her family for 'daring' to cause trouble by striking and attending rallies. However a strong sense of community and sisterhood amongst the women wins the day and this is a repeated theme throughout the book.

A love triangle for Nellie's affections is used to show different aspects of Bermondsey life. I wasn't so convinced by this as it was pretty predictable and got very saccharine in places. The incredible hardships faced by Nellie and her family were fascinating to read about, but trivialised by their apparently simple overcoming. Anything can be surmounted by the putting on of the kettle and a brief 'all in it together' inspirational speech. Custard Tarts And Broken Hearts is an easy read which does give insights into women's lives in the 1910s, however it wasn't gritty and real enough for my tastes and I did find the writing too repetitive. The novel would be fine for a light holiday read, but I would have preferred stronger characterisations.

Etsy Find!
by Rebecca McConnachie in
Hitchin, England

Click pic to visit Etsy Shop

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Mary Gibson / Historical fiction / Books from England


  1. Oh working rights! I don't think I've read any book about this topic or about women's lives in the 1910s! So much potential! I like stories with a strong sense of community and sisterhood! too bad for the repetitive writing! :(

    1. This one had good themes, but the writing style just wasn't quite right for me

  2. This is an interesting period of time. Too bad this was a little more complex. It does sounds like a great premise though.

    1. I could have done with a deeper novel with more history and less romance!