A Ration Book Victory by Jean Fullerton
This book comes at the end of a brilliant wartime series – but is a success on its own as it features a love story that has existed over decades. Queenie, a redoubtable older woman who has had a big role in many of these books which feature an East End of London family facing the challenges of War, has hinted that all is not all as it seems over the years. The dual timeline in this book tells the story of her great love which began in 1877, but which becomes a sharp focus in the final days of the Second World War. Many members of the family have their moment in the spotlight, as memories of past challenges surface in the face of hope of the end of danger. This wartime series has worked because it is far more than the problems of the blitz, though many of the separations and anxieties are war related. In this book there are lyrical memories of first love, as well as the harsh implications of long held grudges. The setting, in one of the areas most affected by the bombing, is well described as are the clothes worn by the characters. Indeed, one of the characters changes his clothes as almost a symbol of a different lifestyle. This is a book written with real understanding and compassion for lives that are rarely straightforward, and love that defies the rules. I found it a moving and brilliantly written book, with a real understanding of past passions and current concerns, and was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.
Unlike the previous novels, which have been firmly pitched in the wartime period, this book begins in the summer of 1877, when five year old Philomena Dooley meets the slightly older Patrick, and her fate seems to be sealed. The scene shifts to London in 1945, when Philomena is known as Queenie, matriarch of the Brogan family, who lives with her only son Jeremiah, his wife Ida, and a selection of their children. Their older children, if not away in the forces, live locally and Jeremiah and Ida are grandparents. The entire family attends the local Catholic church, at least for special occasions, but Queenie is especially regular in her attendance. She is particularly attached to Father Mahon, the now elderly parish priest, and the reader is informed of her situation throughout the novel. Other problems arise,with one son reacting badly to the temptations of another lifestyle, and a daughter desperately longing for a child when her sisters seem to have no problems. There is a lovely description of V.E. night celebrations in London, which prove memorable for all sorts of reasons and are so well written that it really feels as if I was watching it happen.
I so enjoyed this book as it has such good solid character descriptions, with a few unexpected twists. There has obviously been a huge amount of research behind this and the other novels, yet it is understated and never gets in the way of the narrative. The dialogue, especially from Queenie, is so natural and lively that it really adds to the character and story. This is a remarkable novel for all the best reasons, and a triumphant ending to a wonderful series.