Martha’s Journey – Maureen Lee

Martha’s Journey is the latest novel from established author Maureen Lee. It tells the story of Martha who has many battles in her life and journeys to complete.

A husband who after an accident seems to have given up all hope of working and spends his time sleeping and drinking leaving Martha to bring the money into the house. A house that all of them share, small rooms, no privacy and with no facilities other than those at the end of the yard which the whole block of four to five families share. Martha does her best to make it a home for her children when it quite clearly is not.

Martha’s five children who all love her in their own way are all very different characters. Frank; a chancer who sees no wrong in his actions. Joyce; trying to be better than her family and snub their way of life. Joe, too young to have taken on the responsibility of looking after a family. Lily and Georgie the youngest children but who seem to have humour, faith and innocence when everything else in their home and life is lacking.

One day Joe, at the age of fourteen comes home and says he has joined the Army and is off to fight in The Great War. Here begins Martha’s journey for justice. Joe should never have been allowed to join up but because of a corrupt Police sergeant he is to join the man’s world. Martha starts her fight to bring her son home, but fate takes a different path and Martha feels she has to continue her fight at all costs and take the injustice of young lads being allowed to join up right to the front door of 10 Downing Street.

For me this book did not strike enough emotions for me as previous Lee novels have, I turned the pages but not with any excited anticipation.  There is something quite insipid about the character of Martha and I feel much more could have been made of her. Kate who befriends Martha very quickly is slightly unbelievable although not entirely impossible despite being from two different classes. I felt that Kate was there to show the difference in the ‘class’ of the people of Liverpool and that for Kate, Martha simply became a stepping stone for her own ends; to become a journalist.

Martha’s journey to London by foot, as originally planned is hijacked by Kate’s journalist friend Clive and another journalist Alex who suddenly appears and they both seem to engineer Martha for their own making and the politics of the whole time suddenly infiltrates one woman’s simple mission to get an answer for why her fourteen year old son was allowed to join the Army and go to France.

The presence of the prologue and epilogue is not relevant and to a degree pointless; this was a vehicle to introducing the story of Martha. This book could have been fleshed out with more on Martha and her family from when she first got married and the start of their family life together, rather than a couple of sentences to explain how Martha and her husband met.  As a reader I would have felt much more for these characters if we were to see how they arrived at that point in their lives and then what path life took them on.

Not one of Maureen Lee’s best novels and I would start with some of her previous work if you have never read anything by her before. However I will acknowledge that she has obviously researched and brought an issue that is probably not covered in many other ‘family saga’ novels of underage boys joining the Services to fight for their country.

I was disappointed by this book. I chose it to read next, because I wanted something cosy and I knew would keep me reading and absorbed whilst I was not feeling 100%. It did not deliver on this front at all.

I reiterate what I have said do not start with this book if you have never read Maureen Lee before. Here are links to the Lee books which I have read and reviewed on Amazon. Try Kitty and her Sisters, The September Girls, The Leaving of Liverpool, Nothing Lasts Forever and Mother of Pearl. Her much earlier work I read long before I had a computer and decided the reviewing books was going to be a passion of mine. I think I would still read whatever came next from Maureen Lee, but perhaps it would be a library loan?