Wedding Bells for Woolworths by Elaine Everest
This book, set in July 1947, is a celebration of weddings, of younger couples and older couples, after brief or long romances, quickly or well planned. Like the other books in this series, it focuses on those who work or have worked in a branch of the iconic Woolworths shop, specifically in Erith, Kent. Near enough London to allow for visits, but a community in its own right, this is a novel dominated by the women and indeed families who live in the town. Freda was the youngest woman who began working on the same day several years before, then desperately seeking safety and a new start. In this book she has to make her way without all the support she has enjoyed before, as even those she has trusted most are confused. Sarah, married to her great love Alan, must adjust her views on everything as her father changes his life and she is struggling to trust those nearest to her. Maisie, the glamourous girl of the group, is still working hard, and dispensing advice and love to all. This is a book can be read on its own, as there is enough explanation of each character’s history, with a great understanding of the time. This is a book of great research, but more importantly of understanding of the period and the way people lived in that time. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this lovely book.
The book opens with a funeral, attended by most of the community, obviously a source of great grief to many people. This is a reminder of recent trials of war, where even sporadic bombing outside London and the big cities led to loss, and the effects of the fighting were still felt. As it says “Even though it was three years since the war had ended, its consequences lay heavily on everyone’s minds”. Clothes are still scarce, reused and remade. Food is only plentiful if it is home grown. Rationing is still dominating lives. Money is still tight, even for those with good jobs. Freda, young supervisor at Woolworths, was given a house in which she lets rooms. Her main enthusiasm is for helping Alan with his mechanics’ business, though that is not without its problems. One aspect of it puts Freda in actual danger, and she ends up causing an accident which affects a newcomer to the community. Sarah meanwhile is deeply hurt by her exclusion from her husband’s life, and becomes increasingly suspicious of everything. Betty continues with her fair minded managing of the Woolworths branch and her employees’ lives as necessary. Ruby seems more creaky than ever, while her neighbour Vera seems determined to dig her heels in about her granddaughter Sadie.
This book deals so well with local concerns, but also with national events like the Royal Wedding of the then Princess Elizabeth, seen from the point of view of people in the crowd. There is a theme of prejudice against certain people, and that is cleverly inserted in the story. There is also cleverly built up suspense, and a sense of danger. Suspicions of one young woman reveal a story of great tragedy, and make another observation of society of the time. This is a most enjoyable and entertaining novel. Written with enormous understanding and affection for the characters, I recommend it to all those who enjoy a postwar saga.
I have really enjoyed other books in this Woolworths series, remembering my first (Saturday) job was in our local Woolworths, clearing tables in its cafe. My wages kept me in books for a time, but I cannot say that I made any life long friends there. I do remember eating a lot of cream cakes though!