Waters starts her tale of WWII London in 1947, introducing several characters and showing us their situations: Kay, who's still obsessed with wartime...moreWaters starts her tale of WWII London in 1947, introducing several characters and showing us their situations: Kay, who's still obsessed with wartime and can't connect with anyone in the present; Helen and Julia, whose love affair is threatened by Julia's possible infidelity; Viv, who's involved with a married man; and Viv's brother Duncan, whose life is changed when he meets again the man he shared a prison cell with. Then Waters works backwards: having shown us where these characters are after the war, she goes back to wartime to show us how they got there, with the main part of the book occurring in 1944 and a much shorter section at the end in 1941.
The wartime setting is excellent; Waters obviously did her research, and she creates a very convincing atmosphere, particularly when her characters are out in the streets of London. As far as the unusual plot structure goes, Waters is clever about how much she reveals as she goes along, so that I never felt that I already knew what had happened. It does feel a little manipulative, as the characters refer to earlier events circuitously, so that the reader doesn't get too much information, but it's an interesting experiment.
Unfortunately, it didn't quite work for me. This was partly because I didn't find the characters all that engaging, and partly because once I finished the book, I would have liked to know what happened after the 1947 section, which is left very open-ended. Having been led back through the characters' lives to find out how they got where they were, I'd have liked a little more closure as to where they were going, too. It was worth reading, but it's definitely my least favorite of Waters' books and I doubt I'll read it again. (less)
Streatfeild follows a happy middle-class British family into World War II and examines the psychological effects of the war and the evacuations of chi...moreStreatfeild follows a happy middle-class British family into World War II and examines the psychological effects of the war and the evacuations of children from London during the bombings.
As with her children's novels, her portrayal of how children think and feel is excellent. Her feel for the adults is rather less so, though it's very interesting to see an author much better known as a children's author dealing with more adult subjects, from drunkenness to death. Streatfeild tackles these with her trademark directness but doesn't quite manage to capture the adults' perspective as well as the children's. (less)
All Clear concludes the story Willis began in Blackout. It's unfortunate that the books had to be published separately, because they really are two ha...moreAll Clear concludes the story Willis began in Blackout. It's unfortunate that the books had to be published separately, because they really are two halves of the same book and can't really be considered separately.
In Willis's time-travelling-Oxford-historians universe, several historians have been sent back to various points in England during World War II: Polly, in London masquerading as a shopgirl; Eileen, working as a maid in the country with evacuated children; and Michael, studying acts of heroism at Dunkirk. Each historian slowly realizes that something has gone very wrong with the time travel mechanism, and they appear to be trapped in the past, while on the other end, James Dunworthy (head of the time travellers) and Colin Templer (a student in love with Polly) struggle to find the marooned historians.
If I had to make a couple of small criticisms, I would say that the books are a little too long and could have been edited down a bit. Also, the relationship between Polly and Colin could have been more developed; it comes to a head with a suddenness that didn't quite convince me. In the end, though, I became so invested in the characters and the detailed setting that I didn't much care how long the books were; I read happily late into the night to finish All Clear.
The complex narrative could easily have become confusing, but Willis balances her viewpoints and weaves the story's threads together superbly: everything left open-ended at the end of Blackout is slowly brought together and wrapped up by the end of All Clear. She even brings in bits of other works in this universe (To Say Nothing of the Dog and the wonderful short story "Fire Watch"), which makes it even more satisfying. Her evocation of wartime Britain is beautifully detailed and understanding, and I loved her celebration of small heroic acts, easily overlooked, yet vitally important. (less)
Set in war-torn Coventry, England, during and just after WWII, this is the story of the Vine family, through the focus of Frank, the illegitimate son...moreSet in war-torn Coventry, England, during and just after WWII, this is the story of the Vine family, through the focus of Frank, the illegitimate son of unstable, fey Cassie, who has periods of depression and sees odd visions, and the grandson of sensible, strong Martha, who can talk to the dead. Because Cassie isn't competent to take care of Frank, he is passed around among his grandmother and several aunts, all quirky in different ways.
The Facts of Life is subtly fantastic, full of ghosts and visions, yet down-to-earth, funny, and tender. I especially liked the setting, as Joyce examines the intense bombing Coventry received during the war and how it affected the lives of its inhabitants.(less)
What happens when Cinderella gets her prince? More than you'd think, in this wonderful WWII historical novel -- part romance, part spy thriller -- by...moreWhat happens when Cinderella gets her prince? More than you'd think, in this wonderful WWII historical novel -- part romance, part spy thriller -- by Susan Isaacs, one of my favorite writers (this is her only historical; her others are contemporary).
Linda Voss is a thirtyish, half-Jewish secretary in a New York law firm, madly in love with her boss, John Berringer, who's married to Nan Leland, the daughter of Edward Leland, a senior partner in the law firm. When Nan leaves John for another man, Linda's dream comes true...and that's just the beginning of the story.
One of the book's main charms is Linda's forthright, determined, funny personality, which comes through clearly in her first-person narration; this is no shrinking violet of a fairy tale princess Cinderella. Isaacs has a gift for outspoken, feisty heroines, and Linda is one of her best. Sure, the plot is a little unbelievable at times, but Linda's journey from starry-eyed secretary to wartime spy makes for truly compulsive reading.(less)
Etty Hillesum was a Dutch Jew from Amsterdam; she studied Russian, gave Russian lessons, and kept a diary, focusing mainly on her love affair with psy...moreEtty Hillesum was a Dutch Jew from Amsterdam; she studied Russian, gave Russian lessons, and kept a diary, focusing mainly on her love affair with psychologist Julius Spier and her efforts to deal personally with the effects of the Nazis taking control of the Netherlands. In 1942, she went to Westerbork, the camp where Dutch Jews were assembled for deportation to other concentration camps; she wrote letters to friends back in Amsterdam, before she was eventually sent to Auschwitz, where she died.
She was a natural writer, and her diaries and letters are very vivid (particularly the letters, when she describes Westerbork in great detail) and moving, often almost unbearably so. She had a great gift for self-analysis, and her writings show the remarkable emotional journey she made in the course of mastering her own unruly emotions, coming to a point of equilibrium which allowed her to face the destruction of her friends, her family, and her own life with calm resolve.(less)
Harrisson was the cofounder of Mass Observation, an organization begun in Britain in 1937 which in Harrisson's words "sought to supply accurate observ...moreHarrisson was the cofounder of Mass Observation, an organization begun in Britain in 1937 which in Harrisson's words "sought to supply accurate observations of everyday life and real (not just published) public moods." In Living Through the Blitz, Harrisson uses these observations, by everyday people recording events and impressions, to form a picture of the Blitz from the point of view of the citizens who lived through it. It's very interesting and full of fascinating everyday details, and I think it would make excellent research reading for anyone writing fiction set in this period. (less)
Gellhorn is best known for her war journalism (and also for having been married to Ernest Hemingway), but she also wrote short stories and several nov...moreGellhorn is best known for her war journalism (and also for having been married to Ernest Hemingway), but she also wrote short stories and several novels. A Stricken Field is set in Prague in 1938, when journalist Mary Douglas arrives from the United States to report, as the Germans take over. There, she encounters her friend Rita, a German refugee helping other refugees who are threatened with being forcibly returned to the areas under German control.
Gellhorn's depiction of the desperate refugees is chilling and powerful, and the plot absorbing, as Mary becomes more and more involved, emotionally and actively, with the plight of the refugees. It's probably better as war reporting than as a novel (though the bits with Rita and her lover Peter are nicely characterized, Mary is rather shallow), but it's well written and compelling.(less)
I'm not really in a reviewing headspace today, so I'm not going to go on at length, but I really enjoyed this: excellent historical and cultural detai...moreI'm not really in a reviewing headspace today, so I'm not going to go on at length, but I really enjoyed this: excellent historical and cultural details, a heroine I loved, and lovely, sensuous writing. I hope she writes more YA.(less)
I feel as though I shouldn't rate or review this, because it really is only one half of a book (the other half of which won't be out until October --...moreI feel as though I shouldn't rate or review this, because it really is only one half of a book (the other half of which won't be out until October -- vae mihi!). But I loved it too much not to give it at least four stars. Willis does a really good job of balancing the multiple narrative threads and viewpoints, and the historical background is wonderfully done as well. I really can hardly wait for All Clear.(less)