The Colour of Milk: A Novel (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

    Mary, the youngest of four sisters, is born into a family where life is harsh. Her father, bitter from his lack of sons, works the girls from dawn to dusk. Although born with a lame leg, Mary is feisty and outspoken and full of life. When Mary turns fourteen, her father hires her out to the local vicar to help care for his ailing wife. This turns out to be an interesting, if not devastating turn of events. Mary must contend with the vicar's son, who she knows from his dealings with her sister Violet.  Yet, there is a source of joy in Mary's life - there are books in the vicarage.  There is little else in life that Mary wants to do, but to learn to read and write. Indeed, Mary does learn to read and write, and it is in her hand and her voice that the story is told. But at what cost?
    This is a small novel that packs a wallop. You will fall in love with Mary and become increasingly devastated with her tragic story. This is compelling and haunting- don't miss it!

— Karen L.

January 2013 Indie Next List

“Heartbreaking, breathtaking, and very human, The Colour of Milk reads less like historical fiction and more like a memoir. Mary is a hardworking but willful farm girl in rural England until her abusive father 'sells' her to the local vicar as a servant. Her new position brings her opportunities for education and wider knowledge than she ever had before, but there are consequences. This gripping story of power, family, and self-determination will pull you right in and stay with you for a long time.”
— Caitlin Caulfield, Odyssey Bookshop, South Hadley, MA


The Colour of Milk is a literary tour de force of power, class, and fate, told in the fierce, urgent voice of the irrepressible Mary, a character as indelible as The Color Purple’s Celie and Margaret Atwood’s eponymous Alias Grace.

Set in England in 1830, The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon is an emotionally haunting work of historical fiction — hailed as “charming, Brontë-esque...and hard to forget” (Marian Keyes) — about an illiterate farm girl’s emotional and intellectual awakening and its devastating consequences.

Mary, the spirited youngest daughter of an angry, violent man, is sent to work for the local vicar and his invalid wife. Her strange new surroundings offer unsettling challenges, including the vicar’s lecherous son and a manipulative fellow servant. But life in the vicarage also offers unexpected joys, as the curious young girl learns to read and write — knowledge that will come at a tragic price.

About the Author

Nell Leyshon's first novel, Black Dirt, was longlisted for the Orange Prize and shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize. She is also an award-winning dramatist whose plays include Comfort Me with Apples, winner of an Evening Standard Award, and Bedlam, which was the first play written by a woman for Shakespeare's Globe.

Praise For…

“Resonant, heartbreaking. . . . The Colour of Milk is a truly wonderful read—a slender, beautiful novel with as much heart as a book twice its size.”
— San Francisco Chronicle

“The unflinching, observant, and thoroughly persuasive voice of the narrator, a shrewd, illiterate farm girl, makes this slim novel striking.”
— The Atlantic

“Compelling. . . . Leyshon brings her narrator brilliantly to life. . . . Mary draws the reader in from the opening pages. Here is a headstrong, forthright, optimistic character determined to survive her wretched circumstances in a literary jewel crafted by an accomplished writer.”
— Booklist

“At once lyric and brutal. . . . Readers of historical and women’s fiction should investigate.”-
— Library Journal

“Nell Leyshon has beautifully captured a voice that haunts, long after the last word has been read. Brava!”
— Kathleen Grissom, New York Times bestselling author of The Kitchen House

“A wonderfully convincing voice and a devastating story told with great skill & economy. . . . A small tour de force”
— Penelope Lively, award-winning author of Family Album and Moon Tiger

“A wonderfully convincing voice and a devastating story told with great skill & economy. . . . A small tour de force”
— Marian Keyes, bestselling author of Angels and Anybody Out There?
Product Details
ISBN: 9780062192066
ISBN-10: 006219206X
Publisher: Ecco
Publication Date: January 7th, 2014
Pages: 176
Language: English

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