The Heart Stone by Judith Barrow – The story of a strong woman during the First World War

The Heart Stone by Judith Barrow

The beginning of the First World War marked a change for many people. For Jessie life changed in a less obvious way. She realized that she is actually in love with Arthur, her friend since childhood. The lure of joining up, even lying about one’s true age, is too much, but things are not always that simple. Jessie is a strong minded young woman, who works hard in the family bakery and shop, but sometimes strength is not enough. This is a moving story of many parts of Jessie’s experience which may well have been common to many women at the time, of domestic struggles, even violence, but also of deep love for family and those moments of true love. Jessie’s resilience in the face of challenges must last for a long time, with the help of true friends who support and care for her through everything. In a time when women had to rely on each other, when even the vote and other rights were a distant dream, this is a book of a fight to survive, despite everything. Written with a strong sense of time and place, this a brilliantly researched novel where the story is never interrupted by the display of historical facts . It manages to balance life at home while women waited for news, with the filtered tales of life in the trenches and the truth of the fear of soldiers’ experiences. It also shows how not everything improved with the end of the War, and some situations became even more difficult. Friendship, love and hope distinguish this compelling novel, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this memorable novel.

The novel begins with a Prologue, in which Jessie returns form Blackpool with her friends to be greeted by the headline “Britain At War”. The first few chapters deal with the trip, how it is the first time Jessie has seen the sea, how she and Arthur spend a memorable day with their friends Clara and Stanley. She had hesitated about going and leaving her newly widowed mother to cope with the bakery. She realizes that her mother, a nervous woman, will be frightened by talk of war. Jessie is concerned about Amos Morgan, who hangs around the shop. Her fear is soon realized, and even exceeds her expectations. Arthur is caught up in the drive for volunteers for the army, and despite being under age announces his imminent departure for war. He is convinced that it will all be over soon, and finds a spot for their reunion, marked by a heart shaped stone on a hill above the town. Meanwhile Jessie keeps in touch with her determined friend Clara, as they both fear for their loved ones away from home.

There are some severe trials for Jessie and some of her friends in this book, but there is always progress. It emphasizes how people were convinced that the War would be over quickly, that the men would return home soon, and life would go back to normal. This author is extremely successful in conveying the sense of how people thought, the fear of what people would say about women’s situation, and the sheer physically of life in the first half of the twentieth century, especially for women. The character of Clara is a wonderful supporting character, who shows what a woman can achieve given better circumstances. Altogether this is a memorable book for all the right reasons, and I thoroughly recommend it  as showing the reality for women in tough times.