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Priscilla: The Hidden Life of an Englishwoman in Wartime France Paperback – 3 Jul 2014


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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (3 July 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099555662
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099555667
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 98,795 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"A pin-sharp biography which unfurls like gripping fiction… wonderful, haunting, thought-provoking" (Melanie Reid The Times)

"I have not read a better portrait of the moral impossibility of that time and place for people, like Priscilla, who found themselves trapped in it... A wonderful book" (Daily Telegraph)

"As Shakespeare acknowledges, his aunt’s is one of millions of wartime stories. But thanks to the extensive paperwork, and his energetic digging, he creates a detailed and vivid narrative. This is a moving, and constantly surprising story" (Matthew Bell Independent on Sunday)

"So gripping it reads like a novel" (Rachel Johnson Evening Standard)

"This mysterious story of the Occupation in France has all the qualities of a fascinating novel, with exquisite social, sexual and moral nuance" (Antony Beevor)

"Shakespeare offers a nuanced and detailed psychological study of the effect of the Second World war on an ordinary woman. The result is just as absorbing as any biography of a war hero" (Sunday Times)

"Nicholas Shakespeare has employed all his superb gifts as a writer to tell the picaresque tale of his aunt in wartime occupied France. Priscilla is a femme fatale worthy of fiction, and the author traces her tangled, troubled, romantic and often tragically unromantic experiences through one of the most dreadful periods of 20th-century history" (Max Hastings)

"Priscilla brilliantly exposes the tangled complexities behind that question so easily asked from the comfort of a peacetime armchair: “What would I have done?"" (Observer)

"Priscilla's descent into hell runs eerily parallel to that of France itself; Faustian, fascinating and in the end extremely sad" (Sebastian Faulks Observer, Books of the Year)

"An account of the author’s aunt’s life in France under the Nazis. Her descent parallels that of France: Grim but fascinating" (Sebastian Faulks Observer)

"A gripping excavation of a woman’s secret past, Priscilla is also a fascinating portrait of France during the Second World War, and of the many shadowy and corrupt deals made by the French with their Nazi occupiers" (Caroline Moorehead)

"In Priscilla, Nicholas Shakespeare captures the soul of a young Englishwoman who, to survive in Nazi-occupied France, is forced to make choices which few in England ever had to face. She remained her own unflinching judge and jury to the end" (Charlotte Rampling)

"Wonderfully readable… Shakespeare, a novelist and biographer of some note, is too good a writer to succumb to sensationalism. Instead, and after some impressive research, he builds a nuanced, sensitive portrait of this sad and glamorous member of his family…. As the life of Priscilla shows, surviving the occupation was too complicated an affair for any black-and-white verdict" (Economist)

"Like the author's biography of Bruce Chatwin, this is, beneath the obvious drama, a subtle, masterfully written work" (Thomas Keneally The Australian, Books of the Year)

"This absorbing book has many of the excitements of a thriller" (Spectator)

"Priscilla's is a remarkable story, teased out with great skill by her nephew, himself one of the best English novelists of our time" (Allan Massie Wall Street Journal)

"Nicholas Shakespeare has employed all his superb gifts as a writer to tell the picaresque tale of his aunt in wartime occupied France. Priscilla is a femme fatale worthy of fiction, and the author traces her tangled, troubled, romantic and often tragically unromantic experiences through one of the most dreadful periods of 20th century history" (Max Hastings)

"A thrilling story… an intimate family memoir, a story of survival and a quest for biographical truth" (Sebastian Shakespeare Tatler)

"[An] extraordinary true story of the author's aunt. A life of dark secrets, glamour, adventure and adversity during wartime." (Fanny Blake Woman & Home)

"A tantalisingly original perspective of the Second World War…Shakespeare shines a moving, intriguing light on the moral quandaries faced by ordinary civilians" (Robert Collins Sunday Times)

"Priscilla is an unusual book, part biography, part family memoir, part detective story, but it reads like a novel and I found it impossible to put down. As an evocation of the period and the moral hypocrisy of the times, it could hardly be bettered (4 stars, Book of the Week)" (Juliet Barker Mail on Sunday)

Book Description

The astonishing true story of a young woman's adventures, and misadventures, in the dangerous world of Nazi-occupied France

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Carol Dean on 17 Jan. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I enjoyed most of this book as it didn't sugar coat or romanticise the occupation of wartime France. It provokes the reader to ask themselves how they would have behaved under similar circumstances.

What I did find a little uncomfortable was reading about unsavoury or less that heroic behaviour by individuals who are no longer around to either defend themselves or put the record straight.

That said, it certainly appears to be an honest description of the lives and 'loves' of people who were less than perfect and led quite extraordinary lives before, during and after World War II.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By PedroTheSwift on 11 Mar. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book had me hooked from start to finish .. and helped me appreciate the difficulties faced by people such as Priscilla (and French women in particular) during the German occupation of France. There were some two million French POWs kept in German prison camps during the occupation (something I was unaware of), with their womenfolk largely left to fend for themselves. If survival and finding enough food to live on meant collaboration or sleeping with the enemy, so be it ... and shame on those (notably the so-called and singularly inept French Resistance) who treated such women so brutally and unthinkingly after the war had ended. I often wonder what level of collaboration would have occurred in Great Britain had Germany occupied Britain during the war. It's very easy to criticise in hindsight behaviour that would rightly be considered inappropriate in peacetime I recommend this book very highly. It's beautifully researched and elegantly written.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. M. Watson on 10 Feb. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I really liked this book but wanted to like it more. There are quite repetitive bits and, as a woman,I find it very difficult to comprehend that men fell for Priscilla in such great numbers and with such enthusiasm over her 'beauty'. However, perhaps I am being naive and not realising the full extent of the affairs. There again, how could anyone know the full extent - not even a family member writing her memoirs.
Still a good read and gets better more towards the end after the "internment".
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Barbara Wrighting on 30 Jan. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A very interesting time in history which has been brought to life in this book. At times it seemed to ramble on a bit as personal stories have a habit of doing and I would lose my train of thought & have to go back & re-read it. All in all well worth a read, I couldn't make up my mind whether Priscilla was a conniving woman using whatever means to secure her own safety or just a very stupid easily led creature.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mike on 1 May 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Just finished this on the plane. Very interesting context to things that were happening in France and Paris in WWII. Some of the restaurants mentioned are still there under the same name. Of the woman herself I am sure psychologists would have a field day, however to use a phrase that I first heard from my late mother in law "she was no better than she ought to have been"
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By mrs. caroline cousins on 21 Jan. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Slow to start, slightly muddled in time lines, but became compulsive reading. Made one realise how lucky this generation (and mine ) are not to have had to face what she faced, and how female she was in tackling it. Would have loved to have had more of Priscilla, and more detail of her later life - good read, not quite 5 stars.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By T. R. Shoebridge on 29 Jan. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book after a review in the Mail on Sunday and was not disappointed with it.
Although the wartime experience was only a part of a whole life history the number of well known 'names' checked in it shows just what a Small World we do live in.
It also suggests that the 'ruthlessly efficient Third Reich' was in fact just as big a shambles of competing organisations as any other.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By BrianC on 29 Sept. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Strange story, but utterly compelling; the writing style is discursive, even erratic at times, which is an irritation and detracts (hence only 4 stars), but generally from very thin sources Mr Shakespeare has woven a thoroughly believable account of a conflicted life in confused times.
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