One of Amazon's Top Twenty Books of 2015 • Selected as both a Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews Best Fiction of 2015 • Longlisted for The Guardian 2015 First Novel Award
"The illiterate lover and eventual wife of a coauthor of The Communist Manifesto is the star of this enthralling work of historical fiction." —O: The Oprah Magazine
"Lizzie has been brought to life with exuberant force." —The New York Times
"Impressive. . . . A memorable portrait of a woman looking for a cause of her own, distinct from the one made famous by her husband." —The Wall Street Journal
"Lizzie is as spirited a narrator as a reader could hope to encounter." —The Minneapolis Star Tribune
Very little is known about Lizzie Burns, the illiterate Irishwoman and longtime lover of Frederick Engels, coauthor of The Communist Manifesto. In Gavin McCrea's debut novel, Lizzie is finally given a voice that won't be forgotten.
Lizzie is a poor worker in the Manchester, England, mill that Frederick owns. When they move to London to be closer to Karl Marx and family, she must learn to navigate the complex landscapes of Victorian society. We are privy to Lizzie's intimate, wry views on Marx and Engels's mission to spur revolution among the working classes, and to her ambivalence toward her newly circumstances.
Yet despite their profound differences, Lizzie and Frederick are drawn together in this high–spirited love story.
McCrea's richly imagined debut novel is narrated by Irishwoman Lizzie Burns, the longtime lover of The Communist Manifesto coauthor Frederick Engels. In 1870, the couple leaves Manchester (where the wealthy Engels family once employed Lizzie at their cotton mill) to reside in London. Lizzie's new life is opulent but empty: she is uncomfortable with upper-class society and excluded from most of Frederick's activities, including his cerebral efforts to liberate her own class. Struggling to find a purpose, Lizzie seeks out her old flame, the Irish radical Moss O'Malley, whose cause always needs funds. She attempts to help the illegitimate son that Frederick had two decades before and seems to have forgotten. Even as she fights for others, Lizzie nurses wounds of her own: she longs to be married, despite Frederick's disdain for such conventions, and she fears that he will never forget her deceased sister Mary, who was his former lover. McCrae gives the illiterate Lizzie a vivid, convincing voice, sparkling with energy and not untouched by pathos. Her sharp, pragmatic observations offer a human perspective on historical icons . But the heart of the novel is the beautifully realized romance between Lizzie and Frederick: a mismatch of values and temperaments, yet also a tender and complex bond.