Things a Bright Girl Can Do

Sally Nicholls has created an ambitious novel built around the Suffragette movement in London in 1914. From the opening lines, we are thrown straight into a street scene with a young Suffragette addressing a crowd; her words pique the interest of seventeen-year-old Evelyn who is passing by with her young man, Teddy. Evelyn comes from a comfortable and quite conservative background but is starting to realise the constraints put upon her because of her sex. The Suffragettes offer a way for her to fight for more freedom.

Nicholls juxtaposes Evelyn’s experiences with that of two other, very different characters: May, a fiercely passionate and principled young woman who has had an unconventional upbringing with her widowed mother and Nell, a tough girl from the East End with a large family. May and Nell, though very different, strike up a tentative relationship, their belief in the cause of the Suffragettes is really the only thing they have in common.

Nicholls vividly depicts a world where society is changing, the Suffragette movement is seeking ways to improve the lot of working women and the advent of the first World War means that more women enter the workforce by necessity as the men go off to fight. It also illustrates how hard war is on the families left behind without the wage of the head of the household. This is a novel rich with historical detail and with brilliantly drawn realistic characters.