The Halfpenny Girls at War by Maggie Mason
The Halfpenny girls are back – and this time it’s war. Three young women, Alice, Edith and Marg have grown up in the same street in Blackpool, but now it’s October 1939 and War has broken out. This entertaining and involving series of books has now reached its third novel, and for the three women who have witnessed and experienced so much in the past few years they are now beginning to be separated by circumstance and indeed love. This book could well work as a standalone picture of the sort of problems faced by women on the Home Front, not all of which are obvious. The author, Maggie Mason, also writes as Mary Wood, and has amassed a vast amount of knowledge of the background of women such as her main characters, and this certainly adds to the authentic feel of this book. Not that it is in any sense a dry narrative of what happened; Maggie has a real talent for creating and maintaining vivid characters who inhabit the pages of her books even when facing seemingly daunting and impossible problems. Their concerns, their clothes, the settings in the street and now wider areas contribute to a sense of fascinating reality. Not that the story is confined to the three women – a younger sister Jackie is also shown as having found love and appalling circumstances. This is a vibrant and entertaining book, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.
As the book begins Marg, Alice and Edith are sitting on the doorstep drinking hot chocolate which has been their habit growing up. Marg is about to marry Clive, and while things have slotted into place in terms of a suitable house big enough for Clive, his two sons, Gran and Jackie to fit into, it involves moving away from the only home she has ever known in Whittaker Avenue. Edith is struggling as her husband Philip is already away on war work. She has taken in three young evacuees from the East End, and while she is deeply attached to them they have come from difficult backgrounds and she has had to use all her developing teaching skills to get them settled into a new environment. Alice meanwhile is resolved to train in more than just basic first aid, especially as her doctor husband is so busy locally but may have to go elsewhere. Although Edith is also on the move, it is a rush job as so much was in wartime, but there is a band of friends to help. As each woman, including Jackie, goes on to face problems of various kinds, each is supported by the others and their families, real and acquired.
The book does venture beyond Blackpool, but the love and help travels with people. Indeed, that is the central point of this book, that although the three women began with little, with few resources and difficult backgrounds, they have each made the best of their situations so far, and continue to do so throughout this final novel. Although an individual situation may seem bleak, each one can call on the other for emotional and practical support. The demands of war on the women and all the characters can be painful, involving separations and more, but this is a novel of community and the sort of family that can come together over a long and difficult time. This is a highly successful and very readable novel that I really enjoyed, and I recommend it to all readers who enjoy strong female led fiction set in the past.