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The Linen Queen by Patricia Falvey
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's review
Feb 22, 2011

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bookshelves: first-reads
Read in March, 2011

I won this from the Goodreads "First Reads" program. "Linen Queen" refers to a beauty contest held among the textile mills in Northern Ireland. Sheila McGee, whose father died at sea and whose mother battles what appears to be bipolar disorder, hopes to become the Linen Queen so that she can escape her difficult life working in the mills. She wants to see the world beyond Ireland.

Sheila does win the contest in 1941, but a few weeks later, on the Tuesday after Easter, Belfast is bombed. I did not realize prior to this book that the blitz extended to Ireland and that Belfast suffered losses second only to London. The war means that the factories are stepping up production, Belfast refugees come to Sheila's village, and leaving Ireland is impossible.

American soldiers arrive and are billeted in various towns. Sheila turns her hopes to a relationship with an American GI as her ticket out. She begins dating a Jewish-American officer named Joel Solomon. Instead of escape, he opens her eyes to the plight of German Jews. Sheila gradually matures through the novel, becoming less self-centered.

One of my personal goals is to read a novel set in each country affected by WWII. This is the first one I've read set in Ireland. I gained insight into the differing political views of Northern Ireland and "Free Ireland," as it was termed in the book, with respect to the war. Free Ireland remained neutral; the IRA was known to be sympathetic with the Germans. (Perhaps a take on "the enemy of my enemy is my friend.") The author also illustrated the hold that the local preist had over his parishioners, and the fear single women had of being sent to the convent as a disciplinary measure.

I read this book on a long car trip. It was a welcome and enjoyable distraction. I give three stars simply because, as delightful as the book was, it didn't break new literary ground.


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