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Priscilla: The Hidden Life of an Englishwoman in Wartime France Hardcover – 7 Nov 2013
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"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)
The astonishing true story of a young woman's adventures, and misadventures, in the dangerous world of Nazi-occupied FranceSee all Product description
Top customer reviews
Not a distant relative of Jane Eyre, she is an unlikely heroine. Not by nature an initiator, but beautiful, Priscilla is someone to whom things happened. Her story, after a miserable childhood, is set mostly in France during the German Occupation, and has some dramatic ups and downs.
The destiny of this English vicomtesse, looking for safety, fulfilment and love, is a real-life romantic adventure which because it is true, sticks in the mind.
At the story's centre the author sympathetically describes the fraught choices confronting Priscilla, a woman from an enemy country, in Paris under the control of the Gestapo. At the end of the war Priscilla escaped from France "just in time", and later she tried to keep hidden what had happened.
Priscilla's heartbreaking difficulties adjusting to a completely different life in England after the war (which should have been easier but wasn't), is uncannily like Susan Trahearn's destructive post-war crisis in David Hare's play, "Plenty".
I read this a couple of months ago, and this woman still haunts my imagination.
The kindle version of the book includes photographs.
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.
Still a good read and gets better more towards the end after the "internment".
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