It is sad when a television programme is cancelled, especially when it is left on a terrific cliffhanger. Fans of “Home Fires” the series which featured the village of Great Paxford during the darkest days of the Second World War. Based round the Women’s Institute members who between them are involved in every aspect of the village’s life, the television series depicted the lives and loves of many women, older and young, and their immediate families. This book picks up from where the second series ends, as a huge crisis occurs in the final episode affecting most of the village. The series was cancelled, but this book picks up the story at that exact point. Simon Block wrote the scripts for the television, and has now continued the saga in book form. This has the undoubted advantage that the author knows the characters well and can develop them logically and sensitively. It also depicts the village very well, and the way that the characters depend on each other. As befits the action of the television programme, this is a very dramatic book with plenty of emotion which also fits with the conditions of wartime. It provides an interesting and vivid picture of the time for anyone interested in life on the Home Front.
Frances, leader of the WI, has had much to come to terms with in discovering the truth about her late husband. She takes on responsibility for a small boy, which she finds quite challenging as she discovers that even sending him to school is fraught with difficulties. Pat’s abusive husband Bob has not been improved by the events in the village, and he has found that the discovery of Pat’s friendship with Marek, a Czech soldier has fuelled his continuous anger with his wife. Erica Campbell has her family worries, as both of her daughters have had their struggles in the past and are not finding the present any easier. With her husband ill she must make important arrangements, and one option has a profound effect on many people. The farmer, Steph, has surmounted many challenges with the hard work necessary for running a farm in wartime, but must now face her sternest test yet.
This is a fascinating book for anyone who has seen the television series, and the first section of the novel has enough catchup detail for those new to the saga. Obviously it is not the same as watching the television, but the nature of the writing is fast moving and emotionally sensitive. The descriptions are well written and the dialogue keeps the story going. The inclusion of such timely aspects of life as the appeal for Mass Observation as a potential outlet for Pat shows a good depth of research which is not overly pushed. I found this book offered a really good read and an excellent fictional extension of a saga with solid characters who deserved continued exploration. I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, “A Woman’s War”.