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on 16 February 2014
The back of this book states that Elisa Segrave found a cache of wartime diaries belonging to her mother Anne Hamilton Grace.
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.
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on 23 April 2014
The Girl from Station X, the story of a fraught mother-daughter relationship is a brave book, if at times a sad one that is difficult to read.
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.
The story of her mother's life is told solely from Elisa's point of view and there is no advocate for Anne, giving her side of the story. Elisa has proof from her mother's diary that she was indeed loved by Anne in her early childhood, until her brother Raymond climbed the fence and drowned in his grandmother's swimming pool. 'My mother was only forty-two when I, my father and my two remaining brothers lost her – to grief.'
It seems sad to me that Anne bears the brunt of her daughter's resentment as the family dysfunction seems to run deeper than one generation and Anne herself might not have been given enough maternal love and affection.
After reading the diaries and understanding the terrible circumstances that Anne faced after losing not just one but two sons to early deaths, Anne is still not able to atone herself for her perceived sins and the longed for redemption and resolution between mother and daughter sadly never happens.

This review was first published at lambertnagle.com
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on 24 May 2017
I am glad that I did not buy this book.The title gives you the impression that this book is concentrating on her mother's life at Bletchley park.In fact only a fraction of the book relates to this.Mostly it deals with the authors anger at her alcoholic mother.Very disappointing
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on 21 May 2016
Found this very interesting from a social history/ family saga and I enjoyed it. Probably not for you if you want to read about Bletchley park
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 28 February 2014
Written largely from her mother’s personal diaries, this book provides an interesting account of a privileged young woman’s life before, during and after the Second World War. It is, however, much more than just a memoir. It is obvious from the beginning that the author has issues with the way her mother treated her throughout her life. The book provides a sometimes brutally raw account of complex family relationships over several generations, and the fallout that these generate.

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
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This memoir was born out of the difficult relationship Elisa had with her mother Anne. When Anne started suffering with dementia probably caused by her alcohol abuse, Elisa was left with the task of clearing the former family home. In the attic she found a box, filled with notebooks; Anne’s diaries written from the age of fifteen.

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.
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on 5 March 2014
This review was first published at M's Bookshelf - http://mssbookshelf.blogspot.be

The Girl from Station X tells the story of a young woman who's life was forever changed by the War. She went from being a "spoiled rich girl" to someone who actively worked for her country... while struggling to find herself. But it's not just another story about the War. By using quotes from her mother's diary and adding additional information, Elisa gave us a new, original sneak peek into the past. I loved how she made the story fluent by 'talking together' those diary quotes.
Unfortunately though, the story never really captivated me. Elisa's relationship with her mother isn't a very good one, and although I understand that she was struggling to connect with her mother and that she now found a new way to get to know her - through her diaries, their relationship often stood in the way of her mother's story about her youth. Too often I felt Elisa was trying to justify her frustrations with her mother and it came across as 'bitter', in a way... Luckily this was mostly the case for the first part of the book and it really was a fascinating 'snapshot'.
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on 9 May 2015
From my review blog:

https://themoustachioedreader.wordpress.com

I’ll be honest, I did not enjoy this book at all. Heck, I didn’t even like it. The sleeve notes hinted at a wartime tale worth telling yet, for me, it was a dull and frustrating read.

This book was real challenge. I had to force myself to pick it up and read it, often wishing I could throw it to one side and forget it.

The first parts, around 1/3 of the book, cover the childhood and pre-war years of the authors’ mother Anne, the “girl” in the story. Told through Anne’s diaries and with the addition of the authors’ descriptions, thoughts and explanations, it describes the life between both world wars of a rich girl in a large house with servants and nannies. A cast of characters are introduced each with various nicknames and titles, some only appearing briefly, and they confused the tale for me.

Anne is one of the most annoying people I have read about and, for me was without any redeeming features. I soon came to dislike her and did not care about her or any other person in the book.

As the Second World War begins, I wanted the story to improve. Despite joining the war effort as a WAAF and going on to work at Bletchley Park, Anne is still an unlikable character. For me this was highlighted by her taking over two months off sick, yet she still socialised, went shopping and partied during this time – and then complained at another girl being off ill! Anne falls in and out of love with various men and women, we learn a little of her work on wartime operations but nothing in the story grabbed me.

Post war, we learn about Anne’s life abroad and of the authors’ own childhood. But, regrettably, I had long since ceased to care.

The author tells us that she spent many years disliking her mother; I can understand a little as to why.

The-Mustachioed-Reader

My Rating: 0.0* out of 5.0*
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on 20 August 2015
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 Bletchley Park, WW2 and life in general... boy was I disappointed.

First off, there's really very little about Bletchley so anyone hoping for insight on that will be sorely disappointed - the (only slightly shortened) version is her mother worked there very briefly doing some filing, and Winston Churchill visited once.

Second, this whole thing came across as a self-pitying embittered rant about what an awful mother she was (written by an equally awful daughter I might add), in fact the whole family seem to have been pretty ghastly to each other in one way or another. Alcoholic, unfaithful, self-absorbed, entitled, resentful, neglectful (younger brother drowned in swimming pool when left unattended level of poor parenting / grandparenting) etc. etc.

The entire book is written with the focus on the various awful individuals rather than anything much in the way of historical detail or background - it's more like some sort of bad soap opera that just so happens to have happened while bombs were dropping. The sum total of her mother's insight on Bletchley is mostly generic workplace politics and a bit of workplace romance, the actual work she's involved in is hardly mentioned and is described vaguely and disinterestedly as if she may as well have been filing tax returns. It's only really notable at all as being a brief period in her life where she managed to stay sober and do something useful with herself.

The tone throughout is very much a fiercely bitter one and it feels more about the author "unloading" and blaming all her personal problems on her mother and wider family (not entirely without cause) than an effort to write a book someone else might want to read. I read a lot of it thinking to myself she might've been better off visiting a counsellor to talk about it than publishing it - and by the end of the book there's no real sign of her getting any better or moving on which you can't help but feel she really needs to.

Maybe I'm being harsh but I feel the book (especially given the title) trades heavily on the WW2 / top secret / Bletchley link which is a very minor interlude in her mother's otherwise tediously awful life.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 13 February 2014
I received a review copy of this from [...] ahead of paperback publicatinon in March 2014.

The Girl from Station X is a fascinating memoir of a girl from a life of privilege flung into a very different lifestyle during World War II. Elisa Segrave found her mother Anne's diaries in an attic when clearing her house. Anne and Elisa have never had a good relationship due in part to Anne's neediness and alcoholism. Elisa is fascinated to gain insight into her mother's early life and wartime experience: something Anne has never shared.There is a particularly touching letter to Anne on her first birthday, from her father serving in WWI. It is all the more poignant as he dies in an accident just a few weeks later.

As someone who has researched my own family history, I would love to have such a precious resource as Anne's diaries. The diaries are very cleverly woven into the story. While there are sometimes complete entries, there is often an odd phrase dropped into the narrative. Elisa expands on the entries by explaining the historical context or what has been happening in the family at that time.

Ultimately, this book is as much about the mother-daughter relationship as it is about Anne's wartime work. Elisa comes to understand Anne better and even, in a way, to admire her. It is sad that it is too late to build and repair their relationship due to her mother's illness. It is clear that Elisa also finds this distressing.
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