Welcome to the Blog Tour for Kate Hunter’s The Caseroom. I would like to give a big thanks to Kelly at Love Books Group for allowing me the opportunity to participate in this tour along with a great group of bloggers. Check out the poster for the full list of dates and locations for the entirety of the tour; there will be more reviews, some excerpts, and extras along the way.
In The Caseroom, Edinburgh is at the heart of Britain’s print industry and St Leonards and Canonmills ring with the clamour of print works. Determined to follow her father and older brothers into the print trade, Iza Ross enters the caseroom of Ballantynes’ Pauls works in Causewayside as a callow thirteen-year old.
Set in the thick of workers’ lives in Edinburgh’s thriving print industry, The Caseroom follows Iza into the arcane world of the caseroom where she learns the intricacies of a highly-skilled trade. As one of some 800 Edinburgh women who for a few decades did so, she becomes a hand-typesetter, work that had been, and was to become once more, a male preserve.
Despite hostility to the cheap labour that women represent, Iza persists in work that allows her to feed her imagination on books. But holding on to her trade means hardening herself to the needs of those she loves. And when the men’s union moves to eliminate women from the caseroom and a We Women movement forms to oppose them, there is no middle ground. Torn between class and gender loyalties and embroiled in a bitter labour dispute, Iza must choose sides.
The Caseroom is a historical fiction novel that follows Iza from her early teens to her early thirties, between 1891 and 1910. As the summary describes, she is thrown into a labour dispute that makes her future a little hazy. She certainly seems to enjoy the work and is quite strong-willed, which is essential in standing up for the rights of working women as the men discuss their own labour rights. Kate Hunter expertly describes the environment that women were placed in: needed for the amount of work but despised by [the majority of] their male coworkers. In addition to this, Iza’s family plays a large role in the narrative. Kate Hunter strongly maintains this piece of the puzzle – its neglect would have made the plot feel flat – which enhances the complexities of the story to make it seem all the more realistic.
This book reads a little like non-fiction; Kate Hunter has filled the story with facts and technicalities that serve the reader as well as the narrative, including not just sights but sounds and smells. Her ability to create a linear timeline that is both ordinary (work life, home life, a glimpse at social life) and alluring is what gives this work of fiction its literary edge. This linear timeline is not restrictive, however, in the sense that the themes and issues are not bound by time. This is not always a crucial characteristic of historical fiction, but it certainly gives this representation more life.
Whether you are familiar with this piece of history or not, The Caseroom is an essential story of women’s rights as well as the print trade, and if the synopsis has you sitting on the fence, allow the leisurely pace, raw friend and family relationships, authentic character development, and romantic interests persuade you to hop down to this side of it.
Kate Hunter’s father’s family earned a living in the Edinburgh print trade. They made books and newspapers; they read them, but they never got the chance to write them. Kate has read thousands of books and helped to make a fair few. Now she’s written one. She grew up in Edinburgh, worked in a printers there when she was fifteen and, later, was a Mother of the Chapel in Milton Keynes where she now lives.