The Deserter’s Daughter by Susanna Bavin
Life in Manchester in the 1920s is not easy. Many of the men in the working class neighborhood of Wilton Lane have not returned from the War, and feelings are sensitive. This saga is an intelligent and complex study of family life when desire, money, greed and fear become muddled with loss and hatred. Carrie’s family situation suddenly spirals out of control and she has to make the best of an impossible set of facts. It is not a unique dilemma for a novel of this type, but what makes this book so special is the way that Bavin creates a world of deceit and criminality in which the innocent suffer, and mistakes are harshly punished. As in Bavin’s other book, the research into the era is absolutely impeccable, giving not only the facts but also managing to convey the feeling of the period in so many details. The few years covered by this book are a time of momentous events for Carrie and her immediate family as the world of Manchester settles into a post war state. Sometimes brutal, even tragic, the hope and love which perminate this book with the basic strength of the characters means that it is difficult to put down, as tension and surprises maintain the reader’s interest. A flowing and immensely readable book, I found it a fascinating read. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.
The book begins with Carrie’s joyful preparations for her imminent marriage to Billy Shipton with her mother. Her sister Evadne is jealous that her younger half sibling is to marry before her, and when the news arrives that Carrie’s father was executed as a deserter in the war. At a time when even shell shock was not diagnosed properly, the shame of a so called coward in the family is life changing. Later on in the novel there is more on the mental damage that war caused, but at this stage the revelation is life changing, as the wedding is called off and even Evadne’s job is imperiled. As Carrie’s options are limited, tragedy strikes and the women become desperate, an opportunity appears that will have dramatic consequences for everyone. The world of medicine as therapies are tried is introduced, but curiously it is the business of antique dealing which becomes actually dangerous. Who if anyone will survive, and what is the role of true love and loyalty?
This is a powerful, complex and well written saga which contains important themes such as the lack of choices that women had in the recent past, the way men influenced their lives, and the ways they were so dependent on the choices made for them. The effects of a terrible war both on those who fought, and those who loved them is well written. The characters are all well developed, with very human failings and qualities, and there are some interesting details of clothing, setting and even antiques.There is a strong plot which works well throughout, and all loose ends are well tied up. This is a delicious saga, and an excellent read for fans of historical family novels featuring strong female characters. Well worth seeking out!
Meanwhile I have been a bit distracted from putting posts here – I am still reading, just had a few days away and doing different things. I have been collecting some lovely books which I look forward to posting reviews about as soon as possible. They are quite a varied lot! I was delighted to get my hands on a copy of this one!