A Ration Book Daughter by Jean Fullerton – A brave young woman meets challenges during the Second World War

A Ration Book Daughter by Jean Fullerton

The London Blitz affected people in more ways than the obvious danger from falling bombs; it dictated a way of life for those throughout the capital. Cathy is a young woman for whom the war is hard, but not because her husband Stan is away. That is actually a relief, as Stan is a brutal and violent man, and Cathy has not only herself to worry about, but also her small son Peter. She knows that divorce is not an option for a daughter of the Brogan family, but at least she can claim support from her sisters and brothers, and most especially her parents. Living in her rented house is challenging however, as Stan’s mother is ever present, full of verbal abuse, undercutting every action of a brave young woman trying to do her best. A message concerning her husband gives her hope, and when she meets Sergeant Archie McIntosh of the Bomb Disposal Squad she glimpses that there may be more to life. Not that her life is ever easy, and there are traumas in this novel that reflect so many aspects of London life at this period described with real feeling, as well as vivid characters who really live on the page. This fifth book in the series would also work as a standalone novel, as each character is so well introduced and Cathy is especially the focus of this well written book. Although solidly set in wartime, this book tackles some issues that are still a concern today, and the family support is so well described that it is an entertaining read. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this well written book.

The book opens with Cathy working as a Woman’s Voluntary Service organizer, sorting out clothes for those struggling with the loss of clothes in the bombing. She appreciates the problems of having a child in the circumstances, as the Army only pays a small amount to those looking after children even as  rationing bites into every aspect of life. She does the voluntary work as she can take advantage of the nursery for Peter, and it gets her out of the house and away from her thoroughly unpleasant mother in law Violet. When she receives a telegram informing her that her husband is missing in action she almost visibly rejoices, as being the widow of her abusive Stanley is infinitely preferable to being his wife. Meanwhile Archie is trying to deal with an unexploded bomb, and as always, although the mechanical process is dangerous, so is dealing with Lieutenant Monkman, theoretically the officer in charge but who is rapidly becoming a liability to Archie and his squad.  They meet as Archie rescues the lively Peter, and the mutual attraction is obvious. He is in a dangerous job, and Cathy cannot think of life as a free woman for months, but a glimmer of hope exists. Tragedy, lies and trouble lie ahead, and Cathy and Archie will have much to contend with over the next weeks, while coping with the memories of what has gone before.

This book allowed me to enjoy the picture of a community and family pulling together at some points, while dislike and suspicion also occur against a background of the challenges of war. Fullerton is an experienced writer who has a great ability to keep her various characters going along their own paths, while focusing on one situation in particular. It is a mark of a good writer that their writing can evoke so many emotions in the reader – in this case a real dislike of Violet! I recommend this book as not only part of a well written series, but also an enjoyable book in its own right.    

A Ration Book Childhood by Jean Fullerton – Family life in the London blitz in the 1940s.

 

This book tells a remarkable story of family life in London’s East End during the Blitz in the Second World War. Rich with characters that come to life on the page, with well described emotions and feelings, this is a memorable novel of the realism which emerges from an author who truly knows the area. The complex family links which affect attitudes over the generation are here explained, even though some emerged in the previous novel in the series, “A Ration Book Christmas”. This is a standalone book in most ways; although it has characters first introduced in the initial book, they are developed and grow in this novel. It is not just about a childhood, though there are several younger characters who find life challenging. There is so much about the adults who have relationships with them, as even small babies have to be protected from the unpredictable enemy action in the streets and houses around them. Life is described in the shelters, the frustrations of rationed food and other goods, the danger of being caught without shelter. Beyond that there are the human crisis associated with every family, as jealousies, recriminations and the need for forgiveness dominate the story. Jean Fullerton’s enormous skill is in handling the characters so they really live, and the reader cannot wait to discover what they will do and how they will cope throughout the time covered by the book. Beginning in October, this is a book which shows the harsh realities and routines of living with war as Christmas, the New Year, and beyond happens. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.

 

Ida is the mother of a family which includes four adult children who are all involved directly or indirectly through spouses in the war effort. Another child, Billy, has a more complex history, and other babies and children will come to feature in this family saga. The family’s finances depend largely on her husband, Jeremiah, a dealer in scrap whose livelihood is being affected by the emergency war demands. Hoping to branch out into transport work without petrol thanks to the horse, Samson, the return of horse power to central London is an unexpected outcome of petrol shortages. With Queenie, Jeremiah’s mother in residence, life can never be dull as she has her own eccentric and borderline legal activities. She also has ways of dealing with the dislikable Pearl, in a scene which entertains and amuses. At the heart of the story is a tragic betrayal, as a testing time for the family is recalled, and decisions must be made. The danger to both those fighting abroad and seeking to survive at home is well described, and feels real.

 

I greatly enjoyed both the traumas and challenges faced by Ida, her family and friends, and the revelations of past events. While much is said of family likenesses and the implications for identity, nothing seems too unlikely or unreal. While I have read many novels both contemporary and recalling this period in recent history from various viewpoints, there were still elements of life that I had not previously  appreciated. Satisfying and with humour, this book seems to bring the words and actions of women alive in a difficult period as they dealt with the challenges of daily life. I recommend this as a lively story of families and friends in memorable circumstances.