Winnie Childs, the Shop Girl

February 23, 2015

Blog update: I’ve been pretty depressed, I guess? I’ve been having trouble finishing books since November, I think. And work is pretty stressful, and even though I can get pretty vehement about mental health problems being legitimate health problems, it’s really difficult to say, “hey, I spend much of my day wanting to cry, and sometimes I skip lunch because I don’t want to have to choose what to eat, so I’m going to take a sick day.” Especially if it’s unlikely a sick day will help.

Anyway. The Williamsons maybe sort of do help.

Williamsons update: It’s official. My favorite Williamsons book is Set in Silver. Sorry, Secret History Revealed by Lady Peggy O’Malley. You’re still the book that made me love the Williamsons, but Set in Silver is better.

Anyway, I reread Set in Silver, and finished it, which was encouraging. And then I read another Williamsons: Winnie Childs, the Shop Girl.

I think this is sort of the Williamsons’ Samuel Hopkins Adams book. First there’s a meet-cute on a transatlantic voyage, where Peter Rolls, son of an American department store magnate, stumbles into the room where a famous designer has set up a showroom. One of the models is Winifred Child, a last-minute replacement who’s planning on starting a new life in New York.

This is probably the least satisfying part of the book, because you don’t actually get a lot of interactions between Peter and Win. Also Peter isn’t terribly compelling. The Williamsons can create such convincing chemistry; I don’t understand why they sometimes fail to do so. Anyway, we’re told that Peter and Win like each other a lot, but before the trip ends, Peter’s social-climbing sister Ena implies that Peter is — well, not “a man of good character where women are concerned.” After than Win avoids him. It’s a very manufactured kind of misunderstanding.

The book picks up when it transfers its focus from Peter to Win, whose letters of introduction fall through, and who doesn’t seem to be able to find any job at all. Finally she resorts to Peter’s father’s department store — only after hearing that the Rolls kids stay far away from it — and becomes one of their seasonal extra salespeople. And she makes a couple of friends, and impresses people with her smarts and her work ethic, like a good heroine should, but that doesn’t stop the job from being awful. The hours are long and the pay is low, and while the store technically provides the employees with everything the law requires them to, the food is borderline inedible and they’re discouraged from taking advantage of the other benefits (benefits such as chairs). This bit was reminiscent of The Flagrant Years, in a bunch of different ways.

Then there’s some stuff where Win has to fend off suitors, and where Peter is trying in vain to find her, and where — awesomely — the impoverished Irish peer Ena’s been trying to marry goes home and marries his cousin instead. I found Win’s career a lot more interesting than her romance, and I suspect that Alice Williamson did, too. She spends so much time on Win’s progress in the store, and so little on trying to make us care about Peter and Win as a couple. The ending is pretty abrupt, too.

So, Winnie Childs, the Shop Girl is pretty uneven, but it’s a good uneven. The solid middle balances out the uninspiring beginning and end, and even though it ends on a “wait, that’s it?” note, it’s been two days since I finished it and I’m still feeling good about it as a whole. And about Alice Williamson as a whole. I’m not sure what she found for Charlie to do in this one — I’m often not sure what she found for Charlie to do — but it mostly feels like one of hers.



  1. Very sorry to hear that you’re going through a rough time right now. *sends sympathy, beverage(s) of your choice, and a half-dozen Rhosgobel rabbits to do your errands and help with chores*

    • Thanks. I had to look up Rhosgobel rabbits, but they do sound handy.

  2. This sounds totally in my wheelhouse! And I’m sorry you’ve been feeling depressed. I’m here for you if need to talk or vent.

    • Yeah, I think you would like it. (And thanks!)

  3. Now that begs a a uestion – what’s my favorite Williamson story? That’s hard… Right now I’d say Vision House, with the Princess Passes as a guilty pleasure. But Winnie Childs is great, too.

    Meanwhile, I’m sending you best wishes… And know that you’re truly a gift for many of us – you’ve introduced us to so many great books and authors— thanks!!!

    • I haven’t read Vision House, but I love The Princess Passes, too. Although I may prefer The Lightning Conductor.

      And thank you–this blog means so much to me, and it’s always good to hear that other people get something out of it, too.

  4. I’m so sorry to hear that you’re depressed. I hope that reading offers an escape for a while.

    • When I’m doing really badly, my escapes work a lot less well than they normally do, but I’m hoping that the fact that I’m finishing books now means I’m going to be feeling better soon, too.

  5. If you already know about this, never mind, but I’ve found the little light box has really changed my mood this winter. (I’m sensitive to the winter dark).

    As in I get up and do things and if I skip a few days, I notice I don’t.

    My sister swears by it because her doctor told her to get one. (she’s more clinically depressed than I am)

    • I’ve never really associated my depression with seasonal stuff, but that’s an interesting idea. If I can talk myself into going to therapy again, I might ask about it. Thanks.

      • You can buy the lightbox (verilux happy light maybe?) at Bed Bath & Beyond for about $40.

        I’d say Amazon but most of the reviews complained that the lights came broken.

        I let my sister go to therapy & then she tells me what to do. : )

        • It would be nice if all the benefits of therapy were that easily transferable.

  6. I was sure I had read Winnie Childs but now I’m not so sure. It’s awfully hard to keep track of the Williamsons’ books.

    Your blog means a lot to many of us!

    • It’s definitely hard to keep them all straight, but Winnie Childs has a advantage in not being about a road trip. I think it’s one of the ones that does stand out.

  7. I’m sorry that you’ve been feeling depressed lately, and hope it improves and that work becomes less stressful.

    Count me as another who really appreciates your blog, and has found so many good books through it over the years.

    • Thanks–I think things are getting better, and it’s always nice to hear that people value the blog.

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