The Railway Girls in Love by Maisie Thomas
The women who worked in the railways of Manchester during the Second World War did more than cover the jobs of those who had gone to fight. They were women who had family, friends and others, and in this latest novel in the Railway Girls series their loves, both obvious and secret, become the focus of the story. Not that it is all romance and peace; the war continues with regular raids in 1941 which threatens everyone in their homes, on the streets and everywhere else. It works well as a standalone novel for anyone who has not read the earlier books, while those who have will recognise the characters. This novel works because it sensitively looks at the relationships of three main characters in the context of what else is going on in their lives. It also deals with the characters who surround them, where they live, who they work with, and the urge to make the most of each day.
The author has done an immense amount of work in finding out the big points of what was going on in the area, but also the small details of the women’s lives, the clothes, the dances and much more. Not that the research ever gets in the way of the story; it just helps to establish and maintain the characters and how they feel about themselves and others. This is an excellent read and once begun, will be difficult to put down. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel.
The book opens with a sort of flashback to February 1939, as Mabel endures a difficult time in her relationship with her best friend Althea.They are almost like sisters, but two separations mean that a significant problem occurs between them. Those who have read the previous two books in the series will have an extra insight into the after effects of the incident which occurs at the end of the first chapter, which I found very powerful. Meanwhile, back in April 1941 when the rest of the book is set, Joan is forcibly reminded of a family tragedy and a disturbed relationship which will lead to trouble throughout the novel. Although it is alongside her romantic relationship, the effects of a lifetime’s questions will run throughout much of this novel. Dot is the busy grandmother and matriarch of a family with typically war time problems, including the absence of adult sons and the question of whether to evacuate children. Not for the first time Dot has occasion to reflect on her own wishes which would seem nearly impossible to act upon. As always this book features the work that the women did as well as the rules they had to obey, alongside the extra risks and challenges of wartime conditions.
This is a clever, enjoyable and often positive book of a group of women with their family and friends surviving and thriving in unique circumstances. It does not include the melodrama which features in some novels set in this era, and resolutions of situations are never dragged out. It includes a keen awareness of the social divisions suggested by clothes and other almost unspoken hints, as well as how certain characters can achieve a lot by sheer force of personality. Each character is drawn as an individual with their own identity which is a difficult thing to pull off in a novel of an ensemble of this type. Altogether this is a really enjoyable read and gives a vivid picture of women’s lives in wartime Manchester.