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The Girl from Station X: My Mother's Unknown Life Paperback – 15 Mar 2014
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‘What emerges is a life of unfulfilled passions and wartime excitement, cruelly curtailed by an unsatisfactory marriage and a terrible personal tragedy.’(Daily Mail)
‘Two riveting stories twined into one.’(Sunday Telegraph)
'A fascinating glimpse into a lost world of upper-class privilege and the dubious happiness it brings. It explores the complex and contradictory feelings of a daughter towards her mother, and the surprising effect of war on a young woman who found she was suddenly necessary to her country, and who rose to the occasion in a remarkable way. A riveting read.'(Deborah Moggach, author Tulip Fever and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)
‘The Girl from Station X is really two books in one, both of them riveting and sad and full of surprises. Certainly the reader will close this book moved by Anne’s youthful courage and brio, and what became of it. Segrave’s story has wider resonance, of course, in that all our mothers have unknown lives, their own secret hopes and fears. We who are mothers have secrets from our children, too.’(Cressida Connolly Sunday Telegraph)
'A rich repository of missed and mixed messages – the natural reticence of parents and children to reveal their private lives to each other, the daughter's discovery of documentation, her mother's forgetting. Perhaps, when it comes to secrets, you neither discover nor keep exactly the ones you intend.'(Claire Harman Guardian)
'Segrave's latest is a pignant family memoir, uncovered wen she found a cache of her mother's wartime diaries in the attic. The author provides her own sharp commentary on extracts from the diary, so present and past combine in a wonderfully evocative way.'(Sebastian Shakespeare Tatler)
‘Perceptive, tender biography. As an intelligently unorthodox diarist in her own right, Elisa is enthralled by the experience of ‘gradually uncovering a woman I had never expected to know so well.’(Iain Finlayson Saga)
‘A fascinating snapshot of a young woman thrown unexpectedly into an irrevocably changing world. The real strength of this book though is not as a wartime adventure but as a detailed, sometimes uncomfortable analysis of a mother-daughter relationship. It’s a book which is sometimes uncomfortable to read, but will have changed its writer’s life for the better.’(Giulia Rhodes Sunday Express)
‘The diary is pure gold. If only life could be so rich, without the war.’(The Times)
'This combines intimate family memoir with extensive material about the code-breaking work at Bletchley Park, at which her mother excelled.’(The Bookseller)
About the Author
ELISA SEGRAVE is the author of The Diary of a Breast, about her battle with cancer, and the novel Ten Men (both published by Faber.) She writes for many newspapers and magazines, including the London Review of Books, the Guardian, the Independent and The Lady.
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Top Customer Reviews
After reading the back of the book, I was eager to review this book as I was looking forward to finding out more about life at Bletchley Park during World War 2. I know the back of the book states that "Segrave attempts to recreate her mother's life before and after the war", it was, however still disappointing to discover that it was page 103 before there is any mention of Anne Hamilton-Grace's involvement in the war and unfortunately the war period ended on page 250. Prior to this, the first 102 pages of the book were dedicated to Elisa Segrave recounting her mother's early and very privileged life and then the rest of the book (pages 251 - 355) is then devoted to her very privileged life after the war.
I was rather disappointed to find a book whose title suggested it was about the war dedicated so few pages (less than half of the book) to the war.
I cannot say the book gripped me but there were parts that interested me. I would definitely recommend this book if you are interested in social history but don't buy it if your interest is World War 2.
Elisa Segrave's troubled relationship with her mother came to a head when Elisa's marriage broke down, she had two young children to care for and she got breast cancer. Her mother Anne wasn't there for her at this crucial time and as her mother declined further into dementia, the author found that she could no longer deal with her unreasonable behaviour.
In the process of clearing out her mother's home while she was still alive, Elisa found a collection of Anne's diaries written from the age of 15 until her early 40s. Through the diaries, Elisa sees a whole new side to her mother and one that she comes to admire, particularly her distinguished work during the war years.
Anne is a wonderful diarist and her frank account of her time at Bletchley Park (the 'Station X') of the title makes for fascinating reading. So too does her honesty about the ups and downs of working in such a place, working with eccentrics and that despite the importance and responsibility of her work, at times, it probably was boring and even a bit depressing.
The flow of the diaries is interrupted though by the author's own reaction to what has been written and although that can be a useful device if it's done for explanatory reasons, here it becomes intrusive and too much like a troubled daughter's therapy session. This was the only time in the whole book that Anne's voice could be heard yet every time she lets rip, there is the author analysing and commenting upon what's been written – even if it is merely a youthful outburst in what was, after all, a private diary.Read more ›
The book quotes extensively and directly from the diaries, interspersing these passages with the author’s opinions. Although adding authenticity to the unfolding tale, I found this approach quite difficult to engage with at times. The chapters covering the war years in particular contain a great deal of detail about intelligence processing, battles and strategies as well as the day to day lives of those involved.
We are introduced to many people, making it hard at times to remember their relevance. The author jumps back and forth between the time being covered by the diaries and later times that she can recall. My impression was that she is justifying her personal resentments as much as telling her mother’s life story.
A protagonist finding strength in adversity is a common enough theme, and the story does cover how the author’s mother rose to the challenge of the war. It is rare, however, to read a memoir that does not attempt to tug at the heartstrings, but provides such an honest study of human weaknesses.
I was provided with a copy of this book to review by Lovereading.co.uk
Anne was the heir to her mother’s fortune which meant that she rubbed shoulders with the elite of England. The pre-war years are filled with travel, finishing schools and seemingly endless parties. The war years tell an entirely different story of a privileged young woman working as a WRAF, including a lengthy stint in intelligence and a posting at Bletchley Park. I found the diaries, especially those written during World War Two really interesting, as Anne documented her daily life as a WRAF, her satisfaction for feeling useful for the first, and only, time in her life. Elisa has cleverly selected enough to give a true sense of the young woman’s first experience of connecting to her colleagues, a very different experience from the cosseted world of her earlier years.
It takes some time though to get to this part, the beginning starts with a seemingly endless litany of how difficult, indecisive and uncaring Elisa’s mother was. The abuse of alcohol, interesting never mentioned by either family or friends, the selfishness of her endless travels and some tragic losses from Elisa’s perspective is the background which makes reading the young woman’s adventures far more poignant.
The power of this novel is the understanding it gave Elisa about who her mother really was, although at several points her interjections about her mother’s faults led me to believe that perhaps the misunderstandings between this mother and daughter perhaps ran too deep ever to be truly healed.
I received a copy of this book from Lovereading as part of their review panel in return for my thoughts on this memoir.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Difficult to read cannot see where it is leading.
Hops about too much for my liking .
I did not like it
I bought this based on hearing the author interviewed on Radio 4, thinking it sounded like her mother had an interesting life and that it would contain some good stuff about... Read morePublished 21 months ago by Jinbee
From my review blog:
I’ll be honest, I did not enjoy this book at all. Heck, I didn’t even like it. Read more