The Wartime Bookshop by Lesley Eames
Friendship, community and books are all themes in this lively and satisfying book set during the Second World War. The first in a series, it focuses on three women in the village of Churchwood in 1940. While the actual bombs may not be falling on this largely peaceful English village, the effects of the war are beginning to be felt. Rationing and shortages are beginning to intrude into daily life and even the relatively wealthy residents are noticing. A large house has been commandeered for nursing casualties of early warfare, and both patients and staff are in need of distraction. The uncertainty of what will happen to loved ones who have left to fight and what will be the effects of War on the Home Front are becoming realities for some, while others resolve to work hard for the war effort. This is a well written book that I found to be very readable, and despite the switching of viewpoint between the three main characters, flowed very well. The atmosphere was well created and was consistent, as the small details of clothes, the contents of Red Cross parcels and many other aspects of life were well conveyed. The research into daily life at the time was very thorough, but never slowed down the narrative. Eames deals well with the gap between the poorest character without much financial support to the wealthy and bored, as well as the more subtle details of differences. Overall, this is a book that I really enjoyed,
The first character to be introduced is Alice Lovell, a young woman who has just arrived in the village with her father, a newly retired doctor who is quite content to live a quiet life. She had worked for her father as a secretary, and now lacks some focus. She has a hand injury which is a long term issue and means that daily tasks need more thought and effort. She is keen to make a new life for herself, without thinking too much of Daniel, who she has strong feelings for but who she believes thinks only of her out of duty. She is determined to establish herself and make friends but has soon discovered that the village has its fair share of gossip and is heavily influenced by a Mrs Harrington, who lives in the Big House. She is warned off the Fletcher family as being disreputable and dirty. Nevertheless, she soon encounters Kate Fletcher, who she realises has a difficult life with an overbearing father and brothers who seem to delight in making more work for her. Kate is an intelligent and caring person who must work extremely hard on domestic tasks on and heavy farm labour. Her mother has died, and she has no freedom or any money to spend on reading matter, and can only dream of books, female clothing and breaking away from her horrible family. Alice is keen to volunteer to visit injured soldiers at the convalescent home, and soon discovers that they are in desperate need of books to help distract them from their life changing injuries. Meanwhile Naomi Harrington is struggling with an absent husband, past embarrassments, and loneliness. While she runs committees and is the village’s authority figure, she longs for real company. She is defensive and aggressive, especially condemning Kate for her appearance.
The people of the village and the hospital present a difficult challenge for Alice, who struggles to help Kate who has built up reserves to protect herself from public criticism. Naomi lacks trust for everyone and seeks to defend herself by a façade of authority. As the first dangers of War begin to affect the village, can everyone pull together and find the links that can be provided by books, or are there just too many differences?
I found this book really enjoyable and was well balanced between the characters. I thought it went beyond wartime everyone pulling together and looked at the differences between individuals very well. Of course, the theme of books and reading bringing people comfort and togetherness really appealed. I look forward to the next book in the series and certainly recommend this one.