In a way, this is an easy to read romantic saga. It has it all; a group of young women up against a new and frightening situation, a wartime setting, challenges that will have an impact on their lives and not always in a positive way. Looked at in another way of course this is a book which poses the view that women, when acting together, are so much stronger than any other force. They can give each other the respect, self – belief and strength that they need to succeed, or at least survive. In some ways this book, though written recently, attempts to capture something of the spirit of life on the Home Front in the Second World War, when the absence of many men put women into a new sort of battle front.
It is perhaps easy not to know, or appreciate, that young women were not only called up to do war work, but that it often meant relocating to new and perhaps very different places. While Emily and Alice are to stay local to the village they grew up in, they have to give their dreams and ambitions. Emily is a talented and innovative cook who dreams of becoming a chef, and she has already discovered love with Bill Redmond, a local man. Alice has a great talent for study and especially languages. Despite these skills, they are both called up to work on the munitions line in a factory. Lillian must relocate from Bradford, losing her hairdressing business, and she tries to take any measures to avoid conscription. Agnes has her tragic reasons to want to move into the area, making the best of her problems. Little Elsie sees a new hope when she sees the order to move as freeing her from the abuses of her family. The young women are put into a converted accommodation block, and together work to make life more bearable on the assembly line where one mistake could have disastrous consequences. Together they fall in love, discover new skills, and sometimes make mistakes. Situations arise which test each one to the limits, and yet they have to forge new friendships and relationships as people come and go with the fortunes of war. No day seems to pass without dramatic incident, and this book is anything but boring. Hope overcomes in so many cases, but there are still tragedies and concerns for each woman. Sometimes the melodrama seems overwhelming, but there still seems to be love and hope in so many circumstances.
So much of human life is represented by this book, and it is an entertaining read. There is satisfaction in many of the developments and some shocks in this book; in the manner of a good drama many characters and situations are kept going as each is given its full weight. Some of the events strain credibility in some respects, but this is fiction and needs to keep moving and achieve satisfactory consequences. Each girl comes to show extraordinary gifts or courage in their way. It is a book which keeps moving, keeps changing, and is always interesting. Perhaps not to every taste, this is a largely affirming book of women making a contribution to the war effort and living their lives in the best way they can together.
I think you will agree that this was another different type of book for review. Coming up in the next week or so I hope to post on a non fiction Tudor book, the latest British Library Crime Classic and some other books that have appeared on my radar. Meanwhile, a book group on Middlemarch – but who will have finished Eliot’s wonderful book?