Three Words for Goodbye by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb – a 1937 story of two sisters journeying through Europe on a mission to say farewell

Three Words for Goodbye by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Two sisters take a journey across Europe in 1937. It sounds sedate, especially as they take the most luxurious modes of transport available. However, this book is made vivid and very alive by their unpredictable and tumultuous relationship which erupts frequently during the journey, some of the people they encounter on their mission, and the challenging political situations which are emerging in the countries they pass through. They are opposite in character; Clara the eldest, is a fashionable, orderly and logical young woman who is engaged to be married to a suitable husband. Madeleine is a would be journalist, eager to see Europe, to write about what she experiences, ambitious to make her name. It is only love for their grandmother Violet that compels them to venture forth together, their memories of Nellie Bly, an intrepid journalist, and curiosity despite their reservations. 

This is a book narrated alternately by Clara and Maddie, and their insights and feelings as they travel, which gives the writing a real vibrancy and probably reflects that there are two authors. The period detail is immense, as the two young women travel on the Queen Mary to Paris and the Orient express, and stay in the best hotels. Coming from a wealthy American background money is no object, and to an extent that allows other considerations to come to the fore. The research into the clothes, the buildings, the sights and the atmosphere is brilliantly detailed, but never slows the story. The tension builds up in a most exciting way, and this is a book I enjoyed right up to the end. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this well written and engaging book.

Violet is very ill at the start of the book, and it is this fact that makes her so keen to send Carla and Maddie on their trip. She thinks of her inspirational friend Nellie, a very real person who travelled around the world alone to prove it could be done and get the story for the newspapers. Thus it becomes her last great adventure, a chance to send messages to three people who she has met. She is prepared for the young women to be surprised and even reluctant to journey together given that they have not been getting on well for some time. They seem to want very different things from life. Carla does put objections, not least because her wedding to the very wealthy Charles Hancock is due soon. Fortunately she is enthusiastic to travel to Europe, not only to see the masterpieces of art in the galleries of Paris, but also to attempt to capture something of the beauty of the cities and journey in her own art. Maddie is keen to go as she has no plans to marry and settle down, but is desperate to make her name as a journalist. So far she has not received much acknowledgement of her stories; she is desperate to get inspiration from what she fears is the growing influence of the Nazis across Europe.The two women with different agendas must travel and complete various tasks, and some of the circumstances makes that complicated.

This is a very engaging book that captures the reader’s interest and imagination. The settings are beautifully described and come alive in the narrative; the characters are three dimensional and have real depth. I became invested in the characters and genuinely concerned with what decisions they take and their reactions to what is going on around them. I really recommend this book as an enjoyable read and a very satisfying story in every respect.