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Susie B
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Ivy When Young: Early Life of I.Compton-Burnett, 1884-1919
Ivy When Young: Early Life of I.Compton-Burnett, 1884-1919
by Hilary Spurling
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Ivy When Young, 12 May 2016
In the preface to my two-volume edition of Hilary Spurling's impressive literary biography of the writer Ivy Compton-Burnett, Ms Spurling comments that her subject's life falls into two parts, sharply divided by the First World War; Ms Spurling's biography was originally written and published in two parts also - this first volume covering Ivy's life from her birth in 1884 until 1919, and the second volume: 'Secrets of a Woman's Heart ' which follows her life from 1920 until her death in 1969. In the preface to my edition, Ms Spurling continues by informing the reader how, after Ivy Compton-Burnett's death, she managed to persuade her publishers to allow her to write Ivy's life, but her job was not made very easy by the fact that Ivy didn't keep a journal and took the precaution of destroying all her private papers. She claimed to have led 'such an uneventful life that there is little to say.' Fortunately, Ms Spurling (who gratefully acknowledges the help given by Ivy's sisters, Vera and Juliet Compton-Burnett) has found quite a lot to say about the life of one of the most original and witty novelists of her time.

This first volume begins with Ivy Compton-Burnett's recent ancestors (who were, surprisingly, of yeoman stock) and of how her father moved up the social scale by becoming a well-known homeopathic doctor; we read of his first marriage and the births of Ivy's older half-brothers and half-sisters, followed by his second marriage and the birth of Ivy and her six full-brothers and sisters. We learn how Ivy's mother was a difficult, neurotic woman - who, after her husband's death (when Ivy was almost seventeen) became despotic and hysterically unstable and wouldn't allow her children to mix with others, discouraged them from inviting anyone to their home and would not even allow them to cycle, ride or swim in case an accident befell them. Despite her mother's controlling behaviour, Ivy did manage to study at the Royal Holloway College and she was at Holloway when her brother, Guy, to whom Ivy was particularly close, died from double pneumonia after contracting influenza. Ivy returned home to tutor her younger sisters and, in private, to work on her first novel: 'Dolores' (which was self-published in 1911 and was not a great success, Hilary Spurling informs the reader).

After the death of Ivy's mother, instead of feeling freed from the constraints that her mother had placed on the whole family, Ivy found herself stepping into her mother's shoes and abusing her position of authority over her younger siblings, a situation which resulted in her younger sisters later escaping to London to share a house with the pianist Myra Hess. Life became even more stressful for Ivy with the advent of WWI when her brother, Noel, to whom Ivy had become particularly devoted, joined up and was later tragically killed at the Battle of the Somme, and then Ivy's two youngest sisters died in a suicide pact by taking veronal behind the locked door of their shared bedroom on Christmas Day 1917. This tide of destruction, in Ivy's own words "quite smashed my life up" and when Hilary Spurling had finished writing this first part of Ivy Compton-Burnett's life, she was inclined to accept Ivy's own view that her life had ended with the First World War; however when she came to write the second part of the biography, Ms Spurling realised that it might just as easily be argued that the opposite was true - as will be discovered in the second volume of the biography: Secrets of a Woman's Heart: Later Life of Ivy Compton-Burnett.

This is an exceptionally good biography where, despite a lack of documentary evidence, Hilary Spurling - with the help of surviving family members, her detailed research of those who surrounded Ivy Compton-Burnett and an excellent knowledge of Ivy's novels - has written a fascinating and sensitive account of an unusual and intriguing woman, and of the events in her life that made her so. When Hilary Spurling first wrote her life of Ivy Compton-Burnett there were ten years between the publication of the first and second volumes of the biography - fortunately for me, reading these now, I don't have to wait and I am now very keen to make a start on part two. Highly Recommended.

5 Stars.


Tomorrow
Tomorrow
by Elisabeth Russell Taylor
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Tomorrow, 11 May 2016
This review is from: Tomorrow (Paperback)
It is August 1960 and Elisabeth Danzinger, an unassuming and seemingly commonplace middle-aged woman, returns - as she has done for many years - to The Tamarisks, a small hotel on the Danish island of Mon. The Tamarisks was once the Danzinger family's much-loved second home, and for the seven days that she spends on the island every year, Elisabeth stays in the same room and unfailingly carries out the same routine: she visits the same old places; she cycles and walks over the same old paths; she relocates an old bench underneath which she explores with her fingers to find again the long-ago carved initials 'E' and 'D'; and she even unscrews the panel around the old bath tub at the hotel in order to retrieve a piece of crumbling paper on which is written her name and that of Daniel Eberhardt - Daniel, we discover, being Elisabeth's cousin, with whom she was once very much in love.

Initially the reader is lulled into thinking this is going to be a quiet story about an ageing woman living on her memories of the past but, as we read on, we learn that far from being an ordinary, middle-aged Danish spinster, Elisabeth is a German Jewish Holocaust survivor with a tragic and a very disturbing past and one who has a very particular reason for returning each year to Mon - but to reveal more would spoil this unusual and evocative story for those who have yet to read it. This is an exquisitely described novel, but one that's written with restraint and subtlety and totally without sentimentality - which considering the dreadful events that befall the heroine, is a mark of the quality of Elisabeth Russell Taylor's writing. There is no getting away from the fact that this is a poignant and disturbing story, so not one I'd recommend for those looking for an uplifting or comforting bedtime read, but for readers who enjoy beautifully written, unusual and thought-provoking stories, this might be one for you.

4 Stars.

Also recommended by this author: Pillion Riders (VMC)


Long Life
Long Life
by Nigel Nicolson
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars A Long and Full Life (3.5 Stars), 8 May 2016
This review is from: Long Life (Hardcover)
Born in 1917, Nigel Nicolson was the younger son of diplomat, writer and politician Harold Nicolson, and the writer and horticulturist Vita Sackville-West; he and his elder brother, Ben, grew up at Long Barn, a tumbledown fifteenth century farmhouse, a mile away from the magnificent Knole House (a huge Tudor-built stately home with 365 rooms and 52 staircases that was Vita's much-loved childhood home) and at Sissinghurst Castle, where Vita created her beautiful and now world-famous garden. In his memoirs, Mr Nicolson describes his childhood years, where we learn (in common with most children of his background) he spent more time with a succession of nannies than he did with his parents; we read of his mother's lesbian relationship with Violet Keppel (and of his decision to make their relationship public knowledge with his publication of: Portrait Of A Marriage: Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson); of Vita's relationship with Virginia Woolf, which resulted in Woolf's novel 'Orlando'; we learn of his time at Eton and Oxford; of his life as a soldier in WW2; of his work as a publisher at Weidenfeld and Nicolson; of his time spent as a politician (including the Suez Crisis, which he describes as the most important incident in his life); of his travels; of his life at Sissinghurst; and of his role as a husband and father.

The author, who chose a thematic instead of a strictly chronological method for his memoirs, writes with apparent honesty and seemingly without false modesty about his life and of those who surrounded him - although in common with most autobiographical writing, we learn only what Mr Nicolson wishes to reveal. That said, he makes known the part he unwillingly played at the end of WW2 in the repatriation of the Slovenes, Serbs, Croats and 'White Russians' who had fought against President Tito and whose repatriation resulted in their massacre; he also writes interestingly about his time as a politician for the Conservative Party and of his refusal to back his party over the Suez Crisis. The shortest chapter of his memoirs is, tellingly, that which relates to his role as a husband and father - although he certainly seems proud of his children and their achievements. I have to say that I found parts of this memoir more interesting than others and felt that some of it may have been written with the aim of justifying or exonerating himself with respect to certain events that happened during his life - or maybe he just wanted to set the record straight. On the whole, I found this an interesting and informative account of a long and full life and one that had I not already read about his parents' lives, would certainly have made me interested in discovering more about them. For those who may not know very much about Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West, I can recommend: Vita - The Life of Vita Sackville-West, and there are also more recent publications written by other members of the Nicolson family, namely: A House Full of Daughters and Have You Been Good?: A Memoir.

3.5 Stars.


Long Life: Memoirs
Long Life: Memoirs
by Nigel Nicolson MBE
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A Long and Full Life (3.5 Stars)., 8 May 2016
This review is from: Long Life: Memoirs (Paperback)
Born in 1917, Nigel Nicolson was the younger son of diplomat, writer and politician Harold Nicolson, and the writer and horticulturist Vita Sackville-West; he and his elder brother, Ben, grew up at Long Barn, a tumbledown fifteenth century farmhouse, a mile away from the magnificent Knole House (a huge Tudor-built stately home with 365 rooms and 52 staircases that was Vita's much-loved childhood home) and at Sissinghurst Castle, where Vita created her beautiful and now world-famous garden. In his memoirs, Mr Nicolson describes his childhood years, where we learn (in common with most children of his background) he spent more time with a succession of nannies than he did with his parents; we read of his mother's lesbian relationship with Violet Keppel (and of his decision to make their relationship public knowledge with his publication of: Portrait Of A Marriage: Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson); of Vita's relationship with Virginia Woolf, which resulted in Woolf's novel 'Orlando'; we learn of his time at Eton and Oxford; of his life as a soldier in WW2; of his work as a publisher at Weidenfeld and Nicolson; of his time spent as a politician (including the Suez Crisis, which he describes as the most important incident in his life); of his travels; of his life at Sissinghurst; and of his role as a husband and father.

The author, who chose a thematic instead of a strictly chronological method for his memoirs, writes with apparent honesty and seemingly without false modesty about his life and of those who surrounded him - although in common with most autobiographical writing, we learn only what Mr Nicolson wishes to reveal. That said, he makes known the part he unwillingly played at the end of WW2 in the repatriation of the Slovenes, Serbs, Croats and 'White Russians' who had fought against President Tito and whose repatriation resulted in their massacre; he also writes interestingly about his time as a politician for the Conservative Party and of his refusal to back his party over the Suez Crisis. The shortest chapter of his memoirs is, tellingly, that which relates to his role as a husband and father - although he certainly seems proud of his children and their achievements. I have to say that I found parts of this memoir more interesting than others and felt that some of it may have been written with the aim of justifying or exonerating himself with respect to certain events that happened during his life - or maybe he just wanted to set the record straight. On the whole, I found this an interesting and informative account of a long and full life and one that had I not already read about his parents' lives, would certainly have made me interested in discovering more about them. For those who may not know very much about Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West, I can recommend: Vita - The Life of Vita Sackville-West, and there are also more recent publications written by other members of the Nicolson family, namely: A House Full of Daughters and Have You Been Good?: A Memoir.

3.5 Stars.


The Third Miss Symons (Virago Modern Classic)
The Third Miss Symons (Virago Modern Classic)
by F. M. Mayor
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars "It was because she was so unlovable that she was so little loved", 6 May 2016
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First published 1913 and set in mid-Victorian England, Flora MacDonald Mayor's novel 'The Third Miss Symons' focuses on Henrietta, a plain, difficult child who grows into an even more plain and difficult woman. One of seven children, and with three sisters, all of whom are more attractive than Henrietta, poor Henrietta cannot seem to find her place in the world. Her older sisters pity her, but seem to find her a figure of fun; one of them makes a play for Henrietta's lone suitor, only to discard him once she has made the conquest; her youngest sister - whom Henrietta loves dearly, but is unable to adequately convey the depth of her feelings - is fond of Henrietta, but later has her own family to occupy her; even a favourite teacher at Henrietta's old school fobs her off when Henrietta tries to strike up a friendship. The harder Henrietta tries to make people like her, the more they draw away from her, and the more bad-tempered and difficult Henrietta becomes as a result. Will Henrietta be able to break the cycle of her behaviour and find someone who will give her the love and affection she craves - or will she have to resign herself to a life on her own?

With an interesting introduction by Susan Hill, and a Preface by John Masefield, Miss Mayor's brief novel is a wise, perceptive and authentic portrayal of a woman who is trapped as much by her personality as she is by her circumstances, and where the author is very straightforward about her heroine's character flaws: "…it was because [Henrietta] was so unlovable that she was so little loved." This is a sad and, at times, a frustrating story (which makes the reader want to step inside the book and give Henrietta some much-needed advice or, as Susan Hill comments in her introduction, to give her a 'good shake'), but it's impossible not to feel for Henrietta and to become involved in her poignant and cautionary tale.

4 Stars.


The Sunlit Stage
The Sunlit Stage
by Simonetta Wenkert
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable in Parts, 4 May 2016
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This review is from: The Sunlit Stage (Paperback)
Simonetta Wenkert's debut novel begins in 1979 in Italy, where we meet Ennio, a young Italian terrorist involved with the Red Brigade, and the beautiful Julia, an English student studying in Rome. The pair quickly fall in love and Julia becomes pregnant - a situation that forces Ennio, worried for her safety and that of his unborn child, to tell Julia that they must end their relationship. Fast forward to the present day and we learn that Ennio is in prison serving a life sentence; Julia has died; and their daughter Lotte, who has been brought up by Julia's widowed mother, Melody (and has been kept in the dark about her father's past life), is struggling to find her place in the world (no spoilers- we learn all of this, and more, early on in the novel). When Lotte discovers her father is very ill, she travels to Rome, where she meets up with her paternal grandmother, Luciana, and with Pietro Scala, a world-weary journalist who is collaborating with Ennio in the writing of his memoirs. Angry with Melody for keeping her father's past life a secret, and longing for someone to fill the space caused by her father's absence, Lotte embarks on an unwise relationship with someone who is unable to offer her what she thinks she needs…

Interesting as this novel was in parts, and much as I enjoyed the descriptions of Italy, and especially the wonderful descriptions of Lotte's home-life with Melody in London, I found this novel a bit of a mixed reading experience. I so much enjoyed reading about Melody and her studio home overlooking the canal at Paddington, that I almost wanted the story to stay focused on Melody, and would have loved to have learnt more about her back story and her life with her husband, Hugh, whom she loved deeply; I would also have liked to have read more about Melody's somewhat difficult relationship with her daughter, Julia. Therefore, when the story moved to the sections revolving around Lotte when she reached young adulthood, I was sorry to leave the focus on Melody behind - and part of this was because I have to admit that I wasn't as interested or as invested in Lotte's predicament as much as perhaps the author intended; I also didn't find Lotte's affair with a certain middle-aged Italian man very convincing (and there were other aspects to the story that I found less than convincing) but I cannot explain fully without revealing spoilers. That said, I found this is a well-written and beautifully described story and for a first novel, it is quite an impressive one - and as I bought a brand new copy of this for one penny years ago on Amazon Marketplace, I am glad that I have finally got around to reading it.

3 Stars.


The Last Hope of Girls
The Last Hope of Girls
by Susie Boyt
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars A Quirky and Very Likeable Heroine, 1 May 2016
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This review is from: The Last Hope of Girls (Hardcover)
Susie Boyt's third novel focuses on Martha Brazil, an unusual young woman (with an 'old-fashioned sort of face of the type that people do not really have any more') who has just taken the job of live-in caretaker in a large, rundown Oxford Street building which is being converted into luxury apartments. Martha - whose divorced parents comprise of a father, who is a well-known novelist but a rather distant and critical parent, and a mother, who has spent most of Martha's childhood taking in waifs and strays - is delighted with her new home and, after years of sharing bedsits and the messy parts of other people's lives, feels that her own life is now about to begin. Dividing her time between working on her thesis of a little-known, post-war American poet and cleaning up after the builders renovating the building, Martha also makes the time to familiarise herself fully with the neighbourhood, taking great delight in exploring the huge department store across the street where she gazes at items ranging from expensive evening dresses to tins of crisp Italian biscuits, and begins to make plans for her future life. However, memories from Martha's unsettled upbringing and worries about her much-loved, drug-addict brother, invade her thoughts, as does the abandoned flat in her building which is still filled with the possessions of the children who once lived there. Despite Martha's pleasure in her new surroundings and her hesitant optimism for the future, the situations she finds herself in and the powerful feelings which assail her, chip away at her happiness - will she be able to confront and cope with these feelings, and then move on to build a real future for herself?

Martha is a wonderfully quirky and very likeable character, but - like Susie Boyt's heroines in her debut novel: The Normal Man and in her latest book: The Small Hours - she is a fragile and damaged creature with at least one less layer of skin than other people, and her insecure and troubled past-life is not one that she can easily leave behind. The author, who is the great-granddaughter of the psychologist Sigmund Freud, admits to being very Freudian in the way she looks at things, and that with any character she creates, she is always thinking about that character's parents and their parents' parents, and this is evident in the fiction she creates and in the character of Martha - but I would have liked to have known even more about Martha and more of how she became the unusual and interesting person she is. In fact, I would have liked to have learnt more about all of the characters who appear in the pages of this original and beautifully written novel. Although this is a poignant and rather unsettling story, and one with a cast of damaged individuals (and maybe not a novel I would recommend if you are feeling particularly fragile) it's also perceptively observed, darkly funny in places, and is full of wonderful, painterly descriptions which linger in the reader's mind once the last page has been turned.

4 Stars.


Seeing Ourselves: Women's Self-Portraits
Seeing Ourselves: Women's Self-Portraits
by Frances Borzello
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.96

5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and Enjoyable, 30 April 2016
Art historian Frances Borzello tells the reader in the introduction to her fascinating book 'Seeing Ourselves', that self-portraits had been catching her eye for years; she had a drawer full with them - reproductions of works by Western artists from the medieval period up until the present day. "There was something intriguing about even the simplest self-portrait" she tells us "that aroused my curiosity and demanded consideration." The author continues by naming a series of self-portraits painted by famous male artists, commenting that the portraits were painted to show the artists' skills, to boast of their status and to emulate their past masters. Gradually Ms Borzello began to notice differences between self-portraits painted by men and those by women. She poses questions such as: Why did so many women present themselves in such a subdued manner? Why did women so rarely boast of their abilities? Why did the female artist in question choose to portray herself the way she did? The author continues by telling the reader that she tried to make sense of what she was seeing by treating the self-portraits as painted versions of autobiography and, with autobiography in mind, she began to put her drawer of pictures into some kind of order and to look for the answers to some of her questions.

The result of Ms Borzello's endeavours is this beautifully presented book, printed on thick cream paper and packed full of coloured illustrations, where the author (in a chronological format from the sixteenth century to the twenty-first century) looks at the difficulties women have experienced through the ages in order to be taken seriously as artists, and of the lack of freedom that prevented many women from gaining the professional and life experiences they needed in order to practise and improve their art - experiences which were readily available and taken for granted by their male counterparts. This is an informative and illuminating study, which effortlessly weaves together art and social history and one which I found a fascinating and very enjoyable read. Recommended for those interested in women's studies and art history, as well as the more casual reader who is looking to extend their knowledge.

5 Stars


The Summer Before the War
The Summer Before the War
by Helen Simonson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Quietly Enjoyable - but Lacks Narrative Drive, 28 April 2016
Helen Simonson's second novel begins in the summer before the outbreak of WW1, and is set in the lovely town of Rye in East Sussex. Her story focuses on school teacher Beatrice Nash, a twenty-three-year-old orphan who, after the death of her father, arrives in Rye to take up the post of Latin teacher at the local grammar school - a position that has been fought for her by the forward-thinking Agatha Kent, one of only two women on the school's Board of Governors (the majority of whom would have preferred a male candidate). Through Agatha, Beatrice meets Agatha's two nephews: the kind, dependable Hugh, a trainee surgeon; and the handsome, charming Daniel, a poet, who has plans to move to Paris and start up a literary magazine with a close male friend. Beatrice also comes into contact with American author Mr Tillingham (a caricature of the writer Henry James) and the coterie of friends and acquaintances who surround Agatha and her family, including a clever young lad from a local gypsy family, nicknamed 'Snout' to whom Beatrice gives additional tutoring. As the long hot days pass, Beatrice finds herself gradually settling into life on the East Sussex coast, but despite her growing friendship with Hugh, her first few weeks in Rye are not without their difficulties, and when the German army invades Belgium and Britain prepares itself for war, the lovely summer comes to an abrupt end. Whilst the inhabitants of Rye do their bit by taking in Belgian refugees - a situation which brings Beatrice into contact with a young woman who has been violated by German soldiers - the young men of the town have to decide whether to join up immediately or to wait to see how the situation progresses. Hugh, now qualified as a surgeon, joins up and is assigned to a hospital in northern France, Daniel enlists in the army as an officer, and 'Snout' lies about his age and joins up as soon as he is able, much to the consternation of Beatrice...

Helen Simonson's 'The Summer Before the War' is a well-written and well-observed story which deftly conjures up a flavour of the times and has some charming descriptions of the lovely coastal town of Rye; it is also one that looks at social class, moral attitudes and the role of women in society, but the author carries this out with a very light hand and doesn't discuss any of these themes at length or in depth. I have to mention that, despite Beatrice being a likeable heroine and my quiet enjoyment of some parts of the story, this novel has a very slow-moving and rather predictable plot and one that was very drawn out over the book's 570+ pages - in fact the reader is more than halfway through the book before Beatrice begins her hard fought-for job at the school and the section focusing on her teaching and her life at the school (and the part that I was looking forward to reading about) was very short. It is true that the narrative gains pace, and poignancy, during the latter part of the book (where the story moves to the scenes at the Front) but overall I feel this novel needed a tighter edit and, if I am entirely honest, the story's meandering pace and lack of narrative drive made this a less than entirely satisfying read for me - which was unexpected as I often find leisurely paced stories can work really well as undemanding downtime reads and I was a little surprised that I didn't enjoy this more than I did.

3 Stars.


Everyone Brave Is Forgiven
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven
by Chris Cleave
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Different Kinds of Courage, 24 April 2016
When the Second World War breaks out in September 1939, Mary North leaves her Swiss finishing school 'unfinished' and having signed up with the War Office, she arrives in London ready to do her bit. As an MP's daughter, Mary expects to be offered an important job, possibly as an attaché to a general's staff, or something even more exciting, so she is rather disappointed to find that she is to work as a schoolmistress instead. However, Mary soon discovers that she enjoys working with children, and when her pupils are evacuated to the country and she is left jobless, she realises that she really wants to continue teaching. Mary then comes into contact with Tom Shaw, who works for the Local Education Authority and, under pressure from Mary (whom Tom finds very attractive), he offers her a job working with children, most of whom have special educational needs. Tom, whose work on the home front is deemed too important for him to join up, nevertheless feels guilty that he has not enlisted, especially when his best friend, Alistair Heath, a junior conservator at the Tate, joins up and is sent to France, where he undergoes various ordeals and has to be rescued from Dunkirk.

Meanwhile, Mary throws herself into her job and becomes very attached to Zachary, a young black boy who finds learning a real challenge and, in her personal life, Mary and Tom fall in love. However, her relationship with Tom is not without its difficulties - especially when Mary tries to make learning a more enjoyable experience for the children and Tom tells her to stick to reading, writing and arithmetic. "But what good is it to teach a child to count," Mary tells him with exasperation "if you don't show him that he counts for something?" When Alistair is on leave and Mary invites her best friend, the plain but good-natured, Hilda, to make up a foursome, the evening does not go quite the way she had planned. For one thing, Hilda, desperate for romance, is too eager in her attempts to make a good impression on Alistair, and Alistair takes one look at Mary and loses his heart. Although Alistair and Mary realise they are attracted to one another, they know there can be no future for them - for one thing there is Tom to consider, and when Alistair is sent to Malta (where he undergoes even more ordeals) and Mary joins the ambulance service, both become so caught up in the realities of war that their feelings for one another have to remain hidden. And then something happens that changes everything.

This novel, which looks at different kinds of courage, is well-written and well-researched and one in which Chris Cleave incorporates themes of social class and, particularly, of racism and discrimination - and I have to mention here that although I realise the author was using the terminology of the times, I found it difficult to read of black people being continually described as 'n*gg*rs' and Down's Syndrome children referred to as 'mongols'. I also found the large amount of witty repartee between the characters a little over the top, and although some of the banter was very amusing and gave the dialogue a certain flavour and also served to lighten some difficult moments, I felt it was rather overdone and, at times, was to the detriment of the authenticity of the characters. That said, the friendship between Mary and Hilda (and also that between Tom and Alistair) was well-depicted and the author's descriptions of the Siege of Malta and of London during the Blitz were vividly and almost viscerally portrayed (bringing to mind Sarah Waters' 'The Night Watch' and Pat Barker's 'Noonday') - and the part where Mary was trapped in a tunnel rapidly filling with water made for heart-stopping reading. Overall, despite a few quibbles, I found this an engrossing and atmospheric story and read it all the way through in virtually one sitting.


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