The Patchwork Girls by Elaine Everest
Helen is a young woman who wakes up to a nightmare: her husband John has been killed. Even though it is London in 1939 it is still a surprise; the cause is given as a gas explosion. The event forces her to return to her mother’s home with all its tensions and her offensive stepfather. After running away to London to avoid him, her difficult mother and village life, how can she survive her return given the ominous onset of war and all the implications of rationing and worse? Even her best friend has gone silent in London, and she knows no one in the village. The only person taking an interest in her is an RAF officer who seems to be investigating her MP husband’s death, but his interest does not seem to be friendly. A village sewing group may provide a lifeline for her and Effie, whose daughters need a safe home while her husband is on active service abroad. Can sewing pieces of fabric truly help with trauma on this scale?
This is a standalone book from the author of several series of wartime novels. At its heart are the memories and more of women as they deal with more than the usual cycle of marriage and life; they are looking to challenges that will require more of them than knitting socks for troops. As it introduces characters like Lizzie, the strong minded Canadian who actively tries to improve the lives of others, it looks at how women can work together to make a difference even in difficult circumstances. Aware that she may seem an outsider as Britain gears up for War, her determination to offer friendship and more to Helen is a strong theme in this engaging book. The research into the setting and various aspects of early wartime life makes this a fascinating read, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this entertaining book.
As she surveys the scene of her husband’s death, Helen is shocked at her reaction, especially as in the light of questions from the attentive Inspector Richard Gladstone. While she realises that as an important MP with responsibilities in the preparations for war his sudden death must be investigated, she is mystified as to why he is taking such an interest in her. After all, while her marriage was never passionate or even very loving, she fulfilled all the duties of the perfect MP’s wife. She had spent the day largely with her friend Felicity, and in leisurely shopping. Now she must make a quick decision about where she is going to live, and how she must come to terms with her greatly changed future. Her mother’s disappointment in no longer being associated with an MP is difficult to cope with, so when she sees an advertisement for a sewing group she snatches at the opportunity, and is soon persuaded that the simple construction of a quilt can help resolve her difficult memories, especially when more revelations further rock everything. Meanwhile Effie, a live-in housekeeper in Helen’s mother’s employ, has had to retrieve her daughters from their evacuation home, and now faces the bleak choice of returning to London and its dangers or finding a home in the village. As Helen despairs of remaining in her mother’s house, Richard is asking yet more questions, and Effie is struggling, they must find a swift answer to their difficulties.
This is certainly an engaging and entertaining book, with a well constructed plot and a warmth in some of the characters. Helen is a particularly interesting character who has to cope with some very tricky situations. I recommend this book to all those who are interested in wartime stories, and especially those who would like to gain some knowledge of how groups of women working together on crafts made a real difference to life on the Home Front.
Elaine Everest is the author of bestselling novels The Woolworths Girls, The Butlins Girls, Christmas at Woolworths and The Teashop Girls. She was born and raised in North-West Kent, where many of her bestselling historical sagas are set. She grew up listening to tales of the war years in her hometown of Erith, which has inspired her own stories.
Elaine has been a freelance writer for 25 years and has written over 100 short stories and serials for the women’s magazine market. She is also the author of a number of popular non-fiction books for dog owners.
When she isn’t writing, Elaine runs The Write Place creative writing school in Hextable, Kent. She now lives in Swanley with her husband, Michael and their Polish Lowland Sheepdog, Henry.