This is the story of the unfortunate results when various unhappy people collide and a small child is caught in between. After his wife Letitia dies, Thaddeus starts seeking a nanny to look after his newly born infant daughter Georgina. To do so, he has the help of his mother-in-law, Mrs. Iveson. Thaddeus married Letitia for her money, but came to quite like her, and is now bereft that she is gone. However, he never exactly loved her, which makes his anguish even more difficult for him. He is also feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for their daughter, though he's determined to do his best.
However, none of the nannies they interview are suitable for the position, least of all Pettie, who dresses badly, reeks of cigarettes and generally makes a bad impression on the two of them. They rightly see that she's a damaged person, but they don't know how badly.
Because they can't find a suitable nanny, Mrs. Iveson comes to take care of Georgina. However, the interviews have served to introduce them to Pettie, who comes to be obsessed with Georgina and Thaddeus.
Pettie's only friend is Albert, and the two of them grew up together in a house for abandoned children run by the corrupt Mrs. Rapp. The Morning Star house was also a front for child prostitution, and Pettie's only experience with affection was the molestation of “Sunday Uncles” growing up. As a result, her only knowledge of love is for unattainable older men, like Thaddeus.
Albert is a simple minded person who has devoted his damaged life to trying to help other survivors of the house. He continuously tries to get the women he knows into jobs at the local Marmite factory, and thereby avoid going “up Wharfdale,” which is a notorious spot for prostitutes.
After her obsession has simmered for a while, Pettie abducts Georgina and, not knowing what else to do, she takes the infant to the Morning Star home, which is now abandoned. Feeling awful, she calls Thaddeus to tell him Georgina is all right, which is reassuring, but he still can't remember her name. He knows that she was one of the nannies, but nothing much else.
Albert talks her into leaving the baby with him, which he then returns to Thaddeus and Mrs. Iveson. Albert portrays himself as a young man who came upon the baby in the abandoned building, after Pettie has disappeared. So no one knows about the connection between Albert and Pettie, they just know that the baby has been returned, and that is the most important thing.
Georgina is gone for approximately twenty-three hours before Albert brings her back. A few weeks after the abduction, Albert visits Thaddeus again to explain what happened more clearly. We learn that Pettie didn't actually mean any harm, she just wanted to make it clear that Mrs. Iveson shouldn't have been taking care of the baby, and that Pettie would have been a better choice. We also learn that Pettie is dead, and Albert saw her body as they demolished the ruins of Morning Star home.
This story could be untrue, though what we know of Albert's personality it seems very unlikely. After telling his story, Albert leaves. The book ends with another of the women from Morning Star asking him for help, and he tries to help her as best as he can.
Best part of story, including ending:
While I'm not sure if "like" is the word, I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It's an interesting story about a new life governed by so many damaged lives and very adversely affected by all the broken adults trying to take care of her. I found the book fascinating because of the collision of these characters, and while how it will turn out is a mystery, there's never any doubt that it will end badly.
Best scene in story:
Albert and Pettie often meet up in a cafeteria where they can have fries while they talk. One of these meetings happens not long after Pettie's interview and her description of it so clearly doesn't jibe with what the reader knows is true from reading. It's clear that Albert is also a little skeptical, but it's also clear that he's sympathetic and not interested in calling her on it.
Opinion about the main character:
Pettie isn't very likable, especially in comparison to Albert. While Albert's life hasn't been quite as bad as hers, he's made much better choices. While it becomes clear that she didn't have really bad intentions, she still abducts an infant. And while there are reasons why, her obsession with Thaddeus and Georgina can be tiring. What you mostly feel for her is pity, which isn't really very likable.