A Blackpool Christmas by Maggie Mason
A saga set in 1916 onwards, this is a novel of amazing characters, gathered together and separated by the forces of war and other difficult circumstances. It tells the story of Tilly, who has faced incredible challenges in her life, her now adult twin daughters, Babs and Beth, and more recent family and friends. It is a book packed with events and emotion, affection and surprises. Babs and Beth are in some ways the centre of this book, but there are many characters who become involved with the family and community group, centred around a farm and the tourist area of Blackpool.
This is the third and final book in the Sandgronians trilogy, meaning that it concerns people who are born and grew up in Blackpool. Having said that, this book definitely stands alone as a novel on its own, with links back to the previous two in terms of ongoing characters and situations. This makes it a strong multi dimensional read as a strong story has substantial developments from previous books, but it stands alone as an absorbing story. I had not read the previous novel, but found it very easy to pick up what had preceded this one. Babs is a determined widow who is expecting her late husband, Rupert’s, baby at the start of the novel. Beth is also pregnant, but in her case her husband Henry is alive, though serving abroad. They are close, but their past has divided them in a crucial way. This book looks at their difficult relationship in the light of their troubled past, their challenging present and their uncertain future. The depth of affection and friendship expressed in this book is remarkable; it also has much to say about the power of strong and determined women. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this well written and engaging book.
The book begins on the farm owned and run by Tommy and Tilly, as they have married since the traumatic events which separated her from her daughters following her first husband’s death. Babs is working on the farm, as much as she can given her advanced pregnancy. It emerges that she had been working as a nurse on a Casualty train in France when it was attacked, Rupert was killed, and she returned to her mother’s farm. Also present is Eliza, Tommy and Tilly’s daughter, who is working as an apprentice baker. Everyone is looking forward to Christmas, despite those who are lost. Beth is to join them for the day, and that fact revives difficult memories. Babs and Beth were taken by a gypsy couple when they were small children, and although Babs fled from them at the age of thirteen, Beth had stayed and formed a longer standing relationship with Jasmine and Roman. This continuing situation means that Tilly and Babs cannot completely trust Beth as she is still in contact with those responsible for such long standing hurt. As the family and friends come together to celebrate Christmas day, a significant event brings new people into their lives.
This book looks at the fortunes and developments in the lives of this small group of women. They will face challenges, as the War that is being fought in Europe continues. Less tangible but equally painful circumstances will change their lives, and both Babs and Beth will have to make choices that change their lives and the lives of others. This is a very enjoyable book, absorbing in its descriptions and personalities. It has much to say about women’s lives in the early part of the twentieth century, and the powerless that they can suffer from. The plight of war widows is mentioned, especially when left with children who need support. This book shows a good understanding of the pressures on women at the time; the research into the clothes, the expectations and the problems is so well handled that it all feels completely natural. This is a lovely book of love, some losses and hope. I recommend this book to everyone who enjoys sagas set in the early twentieth century.