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A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

A Glimpse at Happiness by Jean Fullerton


The Prologue to A Glimpse at Happiness is easily the most attention-grabbing opening I’ve ever encountered in a romantic novel.  I won’t ruin the impact of it by revealing what happens except to say that in the appalling Ma Tugman – running her East London criminal empire from her squalid dockland pub – Jean Fullerton has created an absolutely extraordinary character who dominates the entire book.

The story opens in 1844 and actually centres on Josie O’Casey, who has just returned to London after twelve years in America.  On her return, she discovers that her first and only love Patrick Nolan – whom she had long believed to be dead – is not only alive and well, but (of course – otherwise there’d be no story …!) married.

If the course of true love never did run smooth, this one traverses the Himalayas – by way of Ma Tugman.  The story cracks along at a terrific pace and it isn’t always obvious where it’s going, which adds a nice frisson to proceedings.  The characterization throughout is excellent and  even the minor characters are deftly drawn.  I can offer no higher praise than to say that I wanted to take the odious Mrs Munroe to one side and slap her silly.

It’s no surprise at all to learn that Jean Fullerton is a native Londoner with a lively and detailed knowledge of her city’s history, because her evocation of the Victorian docklands is so vivid you can see, hear and almost smell them.  This is no prettified version of bygone London and she pulls no punches in her descriptions of the  fight for a decent life that confronted most people every day.

If you like your romantic fiction light and fluffy, then A Glimpse at Happiness is probably not for you – but if you enjoy a bit of meat on the bones of your romances, then it comes highly recommended.

Orion.  2009.  ISBN: 978-1409113201.  320pp.

12 comments on “A Glimpse at Happiness by Jean Fullerton

  1. Jackie
    April 16, 2010

    Guess you aren’t going to tell us if Josie & Patrick ever get back together? 😉 I’m glad there’s been a movement towards portraying Victorian England in a more realistic way, it had gotten way too romanticized in books & movies, making it almost trite. When the reality was much more gritty & difficult.
    The cover here is a bit too modern, don’t you think? And not only are her clothes clean & freshly pressed, but she’s not wearing a hat or bonnet, which a woman of any class would’ve definitely had on at that time period. This one looks as if she’s modeling Victorian costumes for a JC Penneys catalogue.

  2. Moira
    April 16, 2010

    Funny you should mention that naff cover, Jackie … it was given a unanimous thumbs down by all three judges (the cover, I hasten to add – not the book, which we were all very impressed by). It really lets the book down because it gives a completely false impression of what’s inside.

  3. Nikki
    April 16, 2010

    Yes, the cover is naff. I’m always guilty of judging a book by its cover and were it not for your review I probably would skim past this on a book shelf. In fact, I think I might have done that already. Given your review, I’m kicking myself! It’s just my sort of thing and as a Londoner myself I love anything set in this city. Particularly the historical stuff because it’s fun trying to recognise places you know.

  4. Kate Lace
    April 16, 2010

    Sadly, IMHO the covers of many Victorian sagas are equally cra**y. Shame the publishers don’t make the effort to try to be a bit more original and appropriate!

  5. kirstyjane
    April 16, 2010

    It does look very much like something my gran would pick out… but it sounds like it is quite far from the “Only a Factory Girl” school of romance.

  6. Monica Fairview
    April 17, 2010

    I read Jean’s first novel and I absolutely loved it. Looking forward to reading this one as well.

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  8. vicky
    October 3, 2010

    well i have read the first book no cure for love and it was amazing and i’m looking forward to reading this book. The cover is lovely and sometimes its best to be alittle different , who’s to say that all victorian woman wore hats were you there at that time period ? I think the cover is lovely & i always say its best to read the back of a book and first couple off pages before you buy it to know its a story for you.. Jean fullerton is an amazing author and look forward to reading more of her books .

  9. Yongco Aramaki
    August 31, 2012

    If there available novel, i want to read it or movie I wanted to watch it. Please help me how to find it. I am very appreciate if somebody can help me.

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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