Christmas with the Teashop Girls by Elaine Everest
This is a brilliantly written novel with a startling beginning. Set in late 1940 it tells the story of a group of young women who work in the Lyons tea shops of Ramsgate and Margate. In a previous book we have been introduced to Rose, Katie and Lily; Rose is the manager of the Margate branch, and Katie and Lily are some of the “Nippies” or waitresses in the Lyons tea rooms.They have good friends and Rose’s mother, Flora, who live locally, and together they are trying to cope with the problems of an area under heavy bombing. Despite this being the second book in the series, it is so well written that it is possible to pick up the story relatively easily without reading the first book. The story revolves mainly around Rose, whose marriage to Ben Hargreaves is being discussed, as well the hard work which is caused by being on the coast of England which is actively in danger of invasion. There is a lot of research into a period and a place beset by frequent bombing raids and local arrangements to shelter in tunnels. This book, like all of those written by this author, demonstrates real understanding of her characters and the setting in a desperate time in Britain’s history. I was so very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this well written book.
The author has taken a risk by opening this book with Rose and her mother Flora in peril. The focus then reverts from Christmas Eve to the previous September, as the young women associated with Lyons teashops are introduced. The matriarch who runs the boarding house, Sea View, is Flora, who becomes involved with the lives of her tenants. Rose, Lily and Katie live in a cottage given to them by Mildred, an exceptional woman who goes out fishing locally and runs a somewhat smelly van. Anya also works at Lyons; she is a forthright refugee from Occupied Europe and sets out her opinions with an entertaining honesty. The preparations for the wedding involve Rose meeting the widowed Ben’s daughters and mother, Lady Diana. Diana soon emerges as a memorable character, contradictory in her behaviour but always active and on the scene. Rose’s happy time with Ben in London is affected by heavy bombing as the blitz of London begins, but it is still very lively in Kent as not only bombs fall from the sky. There are emotional problems which are not altogether caused by the bombing, and there are some very satisfactory confrontations involving Flora and some of her supporters.
The most enjoyable part of this engaging book is the interplay between the characters as they strive to cope with all the challenges and uncertainties of being at war. The personalities are so well drawn that even minor characters are given life and personality. This is so in the case of Eileen, who claims to be Rose’s half sister. This is a superb read full of vibrant characters and in a setting of the later part of 1940, when so much was uncertain, life was precious and had to be seized, yet there were still those with ulterior motives. This is an entertaining and engaging book with many memorable characters, and I recommend it to everyone who enjoys these ensemble books set during the Second World War.
I always look forward to Elaine’s books and this one is no exception – I really enjoyed some of the set pieces and confrontations. While it is sometimes difficult to pick a favourite character from an ensemble novel like this, I must admit to really liking Lady Diana, who is certainly a strong and impressive character. Do you sometimes pick out a favourite character in books?