Hope for the Railway Girls by Maisie Thomas
One of the really good things about this series of excellent books about women working for the Manchester railways during the Second World War is the way it is possible to read many of the books as a standalone because the viewpoint characters change from among a group. In this particular book the main characters are Alison, Margaret and Joan, who have all appeared in previous books, but in this novel they have their moments. Although the romantic life of one of the characters is discussed in detail, it is done against the reality of war time conditions, when women as well as men were sent to places for the war effort, even if that meant leaving family and friends. This being set in the world of railways it is within the connected work of supplying food to workers of many types, even on the Pie Scheme and the Parks Department which used its space to grow crops to supply canteens. This is an example of how well these novels are researched, but the historical facts are never allowed to slow or impede the narrative. Thus another character is shown cleaning railway engines, the need to keep them functioning and how the resulting dirt was nearly impossible to clean with difficult to find soap. These are the details that keep the books realistic, while the characters are vibrantly described.
The characters have to face difficulties throughout the novel and it is this which makes this book stand out. After a fierce dispute with her father, Margaret has to consider what is important to her, and how to carry on in the face of betrayal. The support of the older women in her life can only help so far; she needs the confidence to continue. As always, the author has such ability to enter into the heads of her characters that I thoroughly empathised with each of the characters.
Joan has had a difficult life throughout the earlier novels, and I was eager to discover how she was coping with the challenge of a baby being on the way in a world of uncertainty and change. Her new role in the station is possible but she feels that it is not enough. She discovers that there are other things to consider, not least the effects of her difficult past (which is outlined in this book) which may well carry through into the future.
This is an enthralling book which, when I began reading it, was so difficult to put down. I found that I am so keen to keep reading to discover what happens next to each of the characters that I have become so invested in through this novel as well as the earlier ones. I am, as always, so very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book. It recreates brilliantly the atmosphere of wartime which was more than coping with bombing raids, even though they still feature in minds, memories and even in current experience. I found the small details of life captured in this novel so entertaining, and there are undoubtedly times when I find myself cheering when things go well. This is a thoroughly good read which I heartily recommend to anyone who enjoys reading about women in wartime, and the challenges that faced everyone as they struggled to cope with optimism and support from others.