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Dublin, Ireland, 1880. Tired of treating rich hypochondriacs, Dr Will Fitzgerald left his father's medical practice and his home on Merrion Square to live and practice medicine in the Liberties. His parents were appalled and his fiancée broke off their engagement. But when Will spends a night in a brothel on the eve of his best friend's wedding, little does he know that the scarred and disgraced young woman he meets there will alter the course of his life.
Isobel Stevens was schooled to be a lady, but a seduction put an end to all her father's hopes for her. Disowned, she left Co Galway for Dublin and fell into prostitution. On the advice of a handsome young doctor, she leaves the brothel and enters domestic service. But can Isobel escape her past and adapt to life and the chance of love on Merrion Square? Or will she always be seen as a scarlet woman?
I really liked the first half of this book. We get to know Will, see how he meets Isobel, and discover how he encourages her to leave the life she's living and do better for himself. The characters, although meeting for the first time in a brothel, get to know each other through letters and visits. They grow into multidimensional characters, and the reader gets a good look at what life was like in Ireland during that time. If the book ended about halfway through, I would have given it a 4.
However, in the last half of the book, it seemed like the characters stopped growing as people. Instead of Will and Isobel continuing to deepen their love through learning more about each other, every occasion they met turned into just another chance to throw explicit sex in the story. It was almost like the author let her characters get away from her and not in a good way. Sure, Isabel had been a prostitute, but she and Will had so much more they could have built upon. It made me hurt for them both as it seemed like sex was all they had going for them.
The story, except for the (imho) over-the-top sexual content in the last half, was well-written and did bring up the limited options women, especially those who for one reason or another were no longer considered respectable, had in that period.
After the meal, Will walked to the practice house on Merrion Street Upper. He went upstairs to his father’s surgery and asked his father to please listen first and then question him if he so wished. His father complied then went to the window and stared down at the street.
“Brown Street has changed you,” he said simply.
“Yes, Father, it has, but I almost married Cecilia while living there.”
“So you are now setting your sights lower?”
Will clenched his fists angrily. “No, I am not.”
His father turned to look at him. “I had such high hopes for you, Will. Now you live and work in a slum and wish to pursue a courtship with a fallen woman. Your mother must be delighted.”
“Mother does not approve, but she does want me to be happy all the same. If you wish, I will conduct any possible courtship away from Merrion Square and cause Mother and yourself the least possible embarrassment.”
“It could be the end of you in Brown Street, you know?” his father told him. “You don’t know how the people there will react.”
“I have been there long enough to know that they will be sympathetic.”
“Come back to work here, Will? We need another young man in the practice. Come back?”
Will shook his head. “I’m sorry, Father, but no.”
His father shrugged. “The girl is beautiful, I concede that. Oh, go after her if you must. I don’t know what your brother will have to say on the matter.”
“I’m not asking for Edward’s opinion. Thank you, Father.”
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