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.