One Girl Began, Kate Murray-Browne, book review: ‘These women’s lives are all heroic in a small way’

Author Kate Murray-Browne. Photograph: courtesy Orion

East London has long been famous for the bravado of those who live here: history-making strikes by female factory workers in the manufacturing heart of London, the vibrant culture of activism that rose as industry declined, and latterly an influx of hip creativity.

One Girl Began, the new novel by local author Kate Murray-Browne, narrates the lives of three women at these turning points in Hackney’s history.

Ellen works in a box-making factory in 1909, Frances squats in the same building – now derelict – in 1984 and Amanda has her first child there in pre-Covid 2019, when the structure has been converted into designer flats.

These women’s lives are all heroic in small ways.

Drawn out by hardship that none expected to endure, they fashion lives marked by female camaraderie and daily feats of perseverance.

Precarious childbearing and absent or duplicitous men and are themes in all three tales, but in other respects the narratives span the experiential spectrum.

One Girl Began can be read as a feminist history of the borough in fictional form; it can also be savoured as a set of engrossing stories about women working out how to be themselves.

Either way, the book’s lively prose and well-paced storytelling are sure to be enjoyed.

One Girl Began by Kate Murray-Browne is published by Phoenix/Orion; ISBN: 978 1 3996 1365 1; RRP: £18.99.