An Ordinary Life by Amanda Prowse – an intense, powerful novel of a woman’s experiences of war and so much more

An Ordinary Life by Amanda Prowse

This is a book that shows that no life is completely “ordinary”, and that everyone has their secrets. In this book, mainly set in the Second World War, life is fragile but love and memories can last. This is the story of a woman’s life, her work, the risks she took, but most importantly, her love. Molly begins the book as a ninety four year old woman, struggling to fulfill a promise,  to reveal a secret central to her life. As she looks back, remembers a brief and glorious time, a time of worry, fear and overwhelming longing, the reader is involved in a story of love, loss, fear and much more. The food, the clothes, the objects descriptive give texture to a story that can be recognised by any reader, while the dialogue gives life to characters despite a distance of time. This is a book where the characters really come alive, especially Molly, whose doubts, fears and so many other emotions seem so real. This is writing, a novel, which lingers in the memory in all its colours and variations. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.

After the older Molly has a nasty fall, she begins to remember her story, to go back to being eighteen years old in December 1943. Working in Bloomsbury, London as a senior translator for the Ministry of Information, she is a bright and ambitious young woman with a good friend, Geer, who drags her to a dance to meet her brother. Her attraction to Johan is immediate and total; happily it is mutual and each word, action and moment becomes vital to both of them. Snatched moments of love, spent in London and later elsewhere, become precious to Molly, diverting her from her work, her ambition, her petulant mother who she lives with, even a war that dominates everyone’s life. A sudden tragic discovery robs her of this blissful state, leaving her with a growing realisation that a new life beckons, very different from anything that she could have expected. The decisions that she must make, the special task that she chooses to embark on, fills her life, works on her brokenness, and leaves her a different person, a casualty of war and much more. Throughout this time she must depend on her family, made to realise that the heightened emotion she is enduring is beyond her alone, that she needs help from others to cope with so much, and express her greatest love.

This is a powerful novel that reflects the fact that war is more than a state of fear or even loss, that love can dominate a life in so many ways, that survival is more than bodily safety. A mission of incredible difficulty and danger is not the only story in this book, just as this is more than just an imaginative account of wartime life. It is the intense story of a woman who lives an extraordinary life of contrast and challenge, of love and sadness, but also purpose and small comforts. Prowse has created Molly as a woman of great depth and reality, her emotions and reactions though described by a narrator are vivid and understandable. There have been many books that deal with a woman’s wartime experiences, but this one places those feelings in the context of a long life, experiences that however brief are central to all that comes afterwards, colouring everything. The secret that Molly is trying to reveal is something and everything, a fact that has changed lives and made her own existence anything but an ordinary life.