Jeannie Mancini's Reviews > The Soldier's Wife

The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy
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Apr 28, 2011

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Margaret Leroy’s upcoming summer release of The Soldier’s Wife will surely be one to be read and discussed in many book club groups, as it is a story that offers a lot to contemplate.

Vivienne de la Mare, living on the island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands just off the coast of England, is a housewife raising two young daughters just after WWII breaks out and takes her husband away to war. Not thinking that their island will be affected, the islanders get a rude awakening one day as German planes fly over and start dropping bombs. Within days of the attack, the German troops arrive. For the next 5 years they will occupy this quiet island of peaceful innocent farmers and families. Although frightened, Vivienne is more at ease with them taking up residence believing that they at least in this case will avoid attack.

When German soldiers set up house right next door as one of their command quarters, Vivienne and her children know they must be extra careful to adhere to the new rules and curfews since they will be living right under the enemy’s nose. But as fate has it, nothing every goes the way you expect it to. Vivienne soon experiences inner conflict when one of the soldiers named Gunther stops over with gifts of fresh coffee and food to help her and the children now that food is scarce. As fraternizing with the enemy would not be looked upon by the islanders as the thing to do, Vivienne is at a loss of how to handle accepting the many gifts and offerings of assistance that the soldier brings to her door. After refusing his kindness time and time again, she finally admits to herself that not only is she attracted to him but would like to accept his generosity. Her children need to eat.

Gunther and Vivienne now begin a long secret affair, meeting nightly at her house after the girls and stepmother are asleep. The story becomes very reflective and full of introspection when the reader then puts themselves in Gunther and Vivienne’s shoes. Would you risk the danger and consequences of loving the enemy? Would you put your children at risk if you were caught? Would you dare offer food and refuge to prisoners being ill-treated by the Germans when in reality you are sleeping with one? Vivienne embarks on a perilous game of chance as she creeps around both sides of the playing field engaging in a double life, desperately trying to keep both Gunther in her life as well as her family safe.

The writing style in The Soldier’s Wife is accomplished and polished. There were a few typos and strange phrases, but ignoring those little items the author shows talent in her execution. I felt her character development of Vivienne and the girls was also decent. I could feel myself inside the minds of each player, experiencing their daily turmoil and asking myself what I’d do in their shoes. However, on the whole, I can’t say the storyline plot was that riveting. This is a sad tale, a fictional painting of what life was like during the years Europe lived through the German Occupation. The heartaches, the deaths, the food shortages, the fear; were all terrible things to endure. But the story needed a bit more drama, lively action, some intense suspense; anything to add some much needed spice to the pages. Even the love affair between Gunther and Vivienne was very dispassionate and dispirited. When I finished the last page, and closed the cover, I said out loud “ 392 pages of misery and despair!” I didn’t feel good about the story on the whole, or how it ended. There is not one redeeming event in this whole novel that is happy or worked out to some extent right for any of the characters. Readers troop on through one melancholy scene after another. The Soldier’s Wife is a pretty grim tale of woe without a glimpse of sunlight. Yes, times of war were very difficult, and the author did portray the times so that readers ignorant of what happened in Europe during World War II would get a clear picture. But as a novel goes, this book needed a lot more zip and excitement whether good or bad to make it interesting. I think it could have been much better and was close, but didn’t for this reader really make it.
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