Books

The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet – Jamie Ford

This is a story which having read it feels so fragile a tale to tell. It is a book for all those who love novels based in or about the Second World War. What made this different for me was the fact, it is based in Seattle, America and this is about the Chinese and Japanese citizens there and how the war affected them personally.

Imagine being born in a country and to all intents and purposes being an American Citizen but having Chinese descendants makes you different. Henry  a twelve year old boy is this and not only do his parents want him to be American and to go to the well known Caucasian school, they want him to only speak English and not Cantonese. Very difficult when his parents speak little English, a fact that alienates him from his parents. He is to be Chinese in America but an American faithful to China, a country he has never visited. Despite this ‘Americanising’ Henry also has to wear a badge to say he his Chinese. Why? Because of the Japanese. Because of Pearl Harbour. Because of War.

Keiko is Japanese and she is also twelve. She was born in America and to all intents and purposes an American Citizen. Her parents treat her differently, she cannot even speak Japanese but she is not made to choose between being Japanese or American. She is American. Keiko does not wear a badge, because since the bombing of Pearl Harbour, all Japanese especially those who live by the coast are suspected of being spies and therefore need to be interned into camps.

A friendship strikes up between these two what others see as outcasts. They are treated in school as such, and have to do all the menial tasks such as helping with the school lunches, cleaning, emptying bins – that is their role in school. They put up with the bullying and when their friendship becomes stronger, Henry has to put up with being accused of fraternising with the enemy. An enemy who has never even set foot in Japan.

Move forward to the 1980s and Henry is now older and recently widowed. Out walking one day he sees a familiar landmark of his childhood, The Panama Hotel being brought back to life, and from the basement come a number of items from years previous. Japanese items which were hidden by the residents before they were taken to the internment camps. Can Henry find his past amongst these items?

The book moves backwards and forwards between these two time periods as we see the story develop and come to its conclusion. What this book does is show a piece of social history that I knew nothing about, and I am ashamed to say that. I had no idea that such things had gone on. This book also has a place in showing race and prejudice. Where just by your birth you are automatically guilty of whatever crime someone wants to accuse you of. No matter what.  All the supporting characters are relevant and bring strength to the overall story and what is happening to the main characters.

The title is somewhat appropriate. The “bitter” is the treatment of people because of their background, their skin colour. The bitter aftertaste of how you watch and can do nothing as whole communities are moved and destroyed. It is this that for me gives the book a certain frailty. The “sweet” is the innocence of love, so fragile, of waiting for that one person and never forgetting about them.  Frailty is there in Henry and Keiko’s love, so delicate it could be broken at any point. The love of parents and their offspring, the love of music and being free.

An excellent book, and if you want to perhaps venture away from novels set in England during the Second World War period, then start with this book you will not be disappointed.

I made the assumption that I was reading a novel written by a woman. It had that tenderness and I know I harp on about it in the book but the frailty that you would think a woman could write. I was reading a book by man. The only reason for mentioning this, has been some posts lately around blogs about how many books you read that are by men and how many by women. Normally I am not that bothered, but with this book I made the wrong assumption. I should just go back to not being bothered I feel! 

Jamie Ford says on his blog that “he is a dude”. Perhaps others have made the assumption as well? He is also one of Amazon’s Rising New Stars and this is where I kept seeing this novel pop up on my screen! Go across and read the page on Amazon, not only will it tell you about Jamie and his background but also about his writing and his next book. One to look out for I believe. 

 

 

Books

The Report – Jessica Francis Kane

173 people killed, men, women and children. But no bombs fell and no shots were fired. So why did these people die? The siren had sounded but no raid was forthcoming? And could the truth be told during a war?

This is the story of the tragedy at Bethnal Green underground station. Which stole the lives of 173 people and was the worst civilian incident of World War Two. Jessica Francis Kane has done her research and she has done it thoroughly. I knew very little about this event, although had some sort of recollection in the back of my mind regarding it.

Kane brings it very much into the open and into the light. Drawing on the contrasts that the report did not or could not do for fear of lowering morale, at the time. Laurence Dunne who is real and was the local magistrate was asked to compile the report which he duly did. Interviewing over 80 people, some more than once. The transcripts of these Kane must have studied carefully as they are obviously the basis of the characters who were wall affected by such a tragedy.

As the book opens, we are introduced to all those, who you know are going to be affected. the mother of two young girls on her way to the shelter, to meet with her husband. The shelter Warden, dedicated to his job and the running of the shelter with the other wardens there. A town hall clerk taking his time from leaving the cinema to the shelter when the siren went, aimlessly wandering along. The local Reverend whose church faces the underground shelter begins to test his faith as many subsequently seek shelter with him.

Then the tragedy strikes. Kane handles it with such effect that I felt claustrophobic myself as she describes the emotions felt by all those affected as they struggle for survival. Can they see what is happening? Can they still have hold of their child’s hand? Is the noise telling outsiders what is going on?

Fraught with emotion, we then follow the report that Dunne files to Herbert Morrison MP, the shelters were named after him. Dunne wants to know facts, but he also realises that the people of the area are deeply affected by what has happened and they want to blame some one, any one, no matter how tenuous it may seem. There are many similarities, the unknown woman at the beginning that no one seems to know where she went to. The babies protected by the body of their mothers. The broken lightbulb. The mysterious noise and that no one was on the landing. Dunne has the task of trying to distinguish between truth and rumour.

“We listen better than we observe, obviously,”said McNeely. “Its the only explanation for the persistence of rumour.”

Were people pushed because of their race or religion. There was strong Jewish presence in the area and Kane hints at this, not only did I learn a lot about the tragedy with this book. I also learned a lot about the social history of the area at the time of war. I praise Kane’s attention to detail. The sewing of the RAF quilts to help the pilots understand the landscape of Germany was fascinating. Do any survive to this day?

To make this a more interesting novel, Kane uses the present day in this case 1973 for a young  man, Paul to contact a then elderly Laurence Dunne and ask him his reflections on what happened forty years previously. Paul is a making a documentary, and seems to have a link to the past, the past he is determined to bring to life the events of the past and find out why the truth was not told as it should have been. The book goes between 1943 and 1973 and it does take a while to work out whether we are seeing the events unfold or are seeing the reflections of it some 40 years later. It is worth persevering if you are not keen on this kind of storytelling.

Kane for me gives us a book which is rich in history, rich in character and shows emotions which just jump off the page. She also questions how the government control information and produce reports of the time. This is just as a relevant in today’s society. Of inquiries nad reports made – are any now made so quickly and are we only being given a version that they want us to hear. Or have we learnt our lessons and want something far more open and clear.

A book for everyone to read, just to show a different viewpoint of life on the home front. The book resonates in so many ways that I just want to tell everyone they should be reading this, everyone needs to know about it.

Thank you to Amazon Vine for allowing me the opportunity to read this book.

Also thanks to the various book blogs that I follow, in particular Jane, Jackie and Helen who have also read this book and made me even more determined to read it.  I knew there was a good reason for starting a book blog! 

Books

Tales of St Austin’s – P.G. Wodehouse

If you have been reading this blog for a while then you may know that of late I have had an interest in reading novels that feature around schools. I have revisited some Blyton and reflected on some Christie, and basically everything in between. I was to discover that P.G.Wodehouse had written some ‘scholastic’ themed books.

Having never read anything other than Jeeves and Wooster books by Wodehouse, I was quite delighted to venture into something new with Tales of St Austin’s.

This book is actually a collection of short stories and essays (which I did not read I confess) based around the boys of the said school. First published in 1903 as a collection of stories, but they had appeared in various schoolboy magazines of the time. There is some link between them, as various characters pop up but they can be easily read as stand alone short stories.

They are not quite as humorous as Jeeves but there is many little quips and observations by the boys on their masters, their schoolwork, their tea and sport. I did feel somewhat confused at all the cricket references as they did rather pass me by as such.  These are public school boys, and reading this book, one does wonder how our country did not grind to a halt (although that could be a debatable issue) with all these boys being are prospective civil servants, MPs, Lawyers, Doctors etc.

So which of the stories stuck out for me – The Tabby Terror, not because it was particularly good but because the boys had found their nemesis in the head’s cat who seemed intent on eating its way around school. Until one unfortunate incident.

A Story in Letters – is just that. I am rather fond of this formula appearing in books. Immediately I am drawn back to Cat Among the Pigeons where Agatha Christie uses the same technique. And that was a school based story.

These are early works by Wodehouse and I can see why, they are not quite as slick as subsequent Jeeves and Wooster novels. I cannot compare to his other work as I have yet to sample it but I will. But make no mistake they are definitely Wodehouse. Fun, especially the more quirky elements of fun but with an assumed knowledge of public schools, its unique slang and full of boys with their heads stuck in what I can only assume is Greek, Latin and the classics. Women are joyous and frivolous  sisters or Master’s wives, they are the background to these boy’s life.

Stories you can read one or two and then move onto something, else popping back when required. I did not read the essays as I previously mentioned and I think in the main, because I was starting to lose the fun element of school life and felt like I was back at school!

I feel next time I head back to Wodehouse I am going to revisit some more Jeeves and Wooster. I need the silliness of Bertie and the acerbic wit and skill of Jeeves.

This book was read on my kindle via the Project Gutenberg Site. If you have the chance, pop over and see what other Wodehouse gems that are there.

Books

Wild Oats – Veronica Henry

3 Choices.

But which one is Jamie going to choose?

Jamie returns home from a 10 month trip, after going away after the death of her mother who she did not know was ill until it was too late. Her journey back to see her before the end was too late. Jamie blames her father, Jack for many things, and as the story progress we learn about Jamie’s mother, Louisa and that perhaps Jack was covering more than Jamie realises.

Jamie’s is trust back into her past, with former friends and loves. They are all there to help her move on with her life and by accident deal with and put to rest past ghosts. Rod Deacon is the son of a family who are known for their family traits and their rather dubious unlawful behaviour. Rod is the exception, and a teenage romance was ended by Jamie after something she hears. This affects all future relationships.

Olivier is the son of friends of her parents, and their parents friendships flourished so much that they all went on holiday together, until something happened when Jamie was around fifteen and the friendship changed between the parents, and there was no consideration of the friendship of Jamie’s and Olivier which looked to be progressing further.

Christopher is a friend who has also moved back to the local area around the same time as Jamie. He brings his entire family to look after the family business, an estate agent due to his father falling seriously ill. However, Christopher wonders if he has done the right thing as his wife, Zoe seems unable to settle and Jamie’s settles immediately into any role with ease which infuriates Zoe.

Each of these male characters, have issues which they are trying to learn to overcome and deal with the past so they can then deal with the future effective.  Rod, Olivier and Christopher bring their own tales to the book and have backgrounds which also are followed throughout. Rod is trying for a baby with his wife, but a chance discovery seems that there may be something wrong with one of them and all the secrets come tumbling out. Olivier has a rival in his car race where he drives and races a Bugatti. Claudia wants to prove something to be the best and she and her father will try anything to ensure that there is a victory. But sometimes winning is not everything. Christopher whilst trying to please Zoe learns something about his business and wonders how faithful some women can be.

This is a hefty book with over 500 pages but it is pure escapism and pure chick-lit. It goes along nicely, you have a feeling where it is going to end up and in that respect it does not disappoint. However I found it rather lacklustre and I have read better novels than this. Worth it if you want to lose yourself in a book which will not be stay with you once you have read the final page.

I did not see the relevance of the title ‘Wild Oats’ and could not relate it to the actual plot line. Loosely perhaps it was the fact that Jamie could have been out there sowing her wild oats with all these men but I think perhaps the author was aiming it at another character, who I will not reveal because although lacklustre I would not want to spoil it for any potential reader.  Perhaps I am completely wrong and missed something fundamental about this book. 

This is the second novel I have read by this author, the first I read was The Beach Hut back last October, and I did in that post want to read more by the author. And so I have, and I think for pure escapism I could quite easily read more and not expect too much from them.  There are times when you need to read that sort of book. 

 

Books

Penelope Goes to Portsmouth – M.C.Beaton

Miss Pym has been on her adventures in Exeter and Bath, in third book in the travelling matchmaker series she embarks ona journey to Portsmouth. And this time she makes it to Portsmouth and gets to experience the sea, which is the reason why she wanted to go in the first place.

Miss Hannah Pym, former servant and now through a legacy has the wherewithal to travel. Not abroad but by stagecoach to various English cities. Along the way Miss Pym invariably finds herself in a coach with passengers who are she feels in need matchmaking. Somehow her audacity, charm and plotting means that they by the end of the journey she has succeeded. Not without a few obstacles along the way.

On her travels to Portsmouth, Miss Pym has to contend with a rather bitter governess Miss Trenton, who despise the pretty young girl she has taught in the past. Therefore despising Miss Penelope Wilkins who graces the title of this book as well as the hearts of the men she meets. One of them is Lord Augustus, the second son and his place in life is rather unclear and therefore he spends his days wasting time with pretty things and gambling. A Lord with very little prospect. Mr Cato, an American and rather brash is on his way back after unsuccessfully it transpires into finding a wife to make life more companionable.

They hit problems with the stagecoach, and their perpetrator of the crime is somewhat surprising. Then we have a glorious wicked lady in Lady Carsey who seems to have her mind sent on dastardly matters especially when it comes to footman. Miss Pym has a lot to contend with on her journey south.

This is a good escapist book, and you know what is going to happen, a problem will befall the coach, the inns they stay at will be of varying quality and everything will work out alright in the end. By the end of this book (and the previous two) I always feel that Miss Pym is “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” and I hope she one day finds happiness, perhaps on her next travels. Perhaps not?

There are three more books to go in this series. I have yet to visit Brighton, Dover and York and they are now on my wish list. Perhaps they may pop up in a charity shop. This one holds slightly more to me as the title is my home city, and I have the luck to be able to see the sea very frequently and perhaps take it for granted. Although I will say that the book is not very specific on its locations in Portsmouth, however the journey down is on what is now the old A3. After taking its course out of London through the highly dangerous area between Knightsbridge and Kensington. A haunt for highway men…” People wishing to walk from Kensington to Hyde Park Corner were meant to gather at the sound of a bell outside the entrance to Kensington Palace so that several could walk together in order to mitigate the perils of the journey”. I think of these two highly desirable places today and smile! 

Books

One Day – David Nicholls

Much has been written about this book, as I come to it a long time after its initial release and mass interest in it.  I hope not to regurgitate the majority of reviews but feel I want to give some space to what the book is about and then space on how the characters made me feel.

Emma and Dexter meet at University and on that day 15 July, we follow their lives on that same date since leaving university. On occasions, they are in touch their lives crossing and touching, going in different directions and certainly with different goals.  There are times when there is nothing between them and misunderstandings on how lives are led cause conflict. Then their paths are going in the same direction, until…..

I just kept turning the pages of this book, as I wanted to see what happened to Emma and Dexter both as separate individuals but also how they behaved together. Emma, the ambitious one with the ideals and opinions becomes one of the lost university graduates in a dead end job, serving others and living that secular life with their colleagues. Been there and done that myself. Emma breaks away and so did I, looking back I can see the similarities in the situation.

Dexter on the other hand, seems to fall into a famous or infamous role and his character reminded me very much of the broadcaster Chris Evans – that crash and burn mentality. There was something certainly irritating about him as if everyone including Emma owed him a favour. His meteoric rise and fall in fame, was of tabloid press status and actually I felt David Nicholls actually dealt with this really well and put across the human side of behind the ‘famous face’.

You could say you lose a lot of connection with the story because as readers we only drop in on these two one a year. I did not find it bothersome, in fact it was a clever way of connecting everyone., even the supporting characters such as Sylvie, Ian and Emma and Dexter’s family are recognisable and you do not need to start flicking back trying to remember how they fit in.

A book that stays with you and well worth all the hype and fuss. For me because of the story and the way it shows some paths in life are right and some are wrong, but you will not know until you have gone down them. It has warmth and humour and is simply just a good read. An author I would like to read more of if this is the calibre of book that I will be getting.

Much has been written about this book, and my review above (published on Amazon as well) just adds to it. What I cannot believe is why I have not read this book sooner, I seem to have avoided all the hype on this one and simply ignored it without giving it a fair go. I wish I had read it ages ago now, I was missing (in my opinion) out on a good book! 

I have many books on my shelf which if you like are ‘hype’ books the books that everyone is reading and talking about on mass. I buy them, because I think I should and  then they sit on my shelf looking at me. The two that spring to mind at the moment is Room and Wolf Hall! I will read them, I know I will but because of the hype I buy the books but the double edge sword is I then I am being a sheep by reading them just because everyone else is! I think back to the last ‘hype’ book I fell for Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I left that book feeling rather cynical – I leave One Day with much better memories of it.  

How do you feel about books that are hyped up or well publicised? Do you ever think I will read it but just not because I am being subjected to its image constantly as a reminder? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Books

One Good Turn – Kate Atkinson

I have only come to Kate Atkinson’s novels in the last 18 months and especially those which feature Jackson Brodie and now having completed One Good Turn I am caught up with all the Jackson Brodie novels.

Brodie, despite his good fortunes at the end of Case Histories, is back in the UK with Julia Land as she stars in a play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Jackson is somewhat at a loose end, and his relationship with Julia seems to be turning in different directions and he spends a lot of time dissecting what has happened and what he wants. Whilst wandering around Edinburgh he witnesses a road rage incident and Jackson is suddenly thrust into something he did not actively set out to get involved in.

But Jackson is not the only one to witness the incident as each chapter Atkinson introduces us to other witnesses, perpetrators and victims of one event which has taken and shook many people’s lives upside down. One the face of it none of these people know of each other, they are not connected in any way but as the book progress they all become  linked in some way. With the denouement perhaps coming as something as surprise for the reader and the characters.

Martin, a key witness, who threw his laptop at the perpetrators head to stop him killing the victim, suddenly finds himself in a position of responsibility looking after the victim after accompanying him to hospital. But the victim is not who he seems, and disappears from Martin’s life as quickly as he entered it. Martin is perplexed by what has happened to him, and believes that it is justice for a former crime that he committed in Russia.

Enter Tatiana, the Russian who was found with Graham Hatter, as he suffered a heart attack, meets Graham’s wife at the hospital, Gloria who also witnessed the incident, and perhaps recognises the perpetrator.  Gloria’s life is changing forever as her husband Graham Hatter of Hatter Homes the business he owns is slowly crumbling as are the houses they build.

One of those houses belongs to DI Louise Monroe who first encounters Jackson when he reports a dead girl in the water who he tries to rescue but her body slips away from him, as the current and tide are too strong for him. Monroe is fascinated by Jackson, not least because he seems to turn up where he should not be and investigating when he should not. You can take the man out of the police but you cannot take the detective out of him. Atkinson really does show how Jackson is clinging onto a past, and his thoughts about how he would deal with all the events unfolding, made me smile.

This book by some is perceived as a crime novel, in fact that is just a small part of it a secondary plot if you wish. It is a character rich story, where they are all drawn together through events, that they have somehow witnessed, and with each turn of the circle, the main centre event, in this case the road rage incident, focuses on another witness, another character in Atkinson’s rich imagination.

A good follow-up book to Case Histories, it really brings Jackson Brodie even more to life as you are drawn into the world where things just seem to happen to him and with one good turn, there is invariably a couple of bad ones coming up behind!

I have read two Kate Atkinson books in quick succession, mainly because I wanted to be one step ahead of the TV adaptation and see how well they compared. I thought I was not going to finish this one in time, and I invariably do not like putting myself under pressure in reading. However, I really got hooked by it and spent a very pleasant Saturday finishing it with great satisfaction!  As this is posted, the TV adaptation will be starting its second episode and I hope that it lives up to the first and stays as faithful to the book as it can be when trying to bring to life an Atkinson book. 

I am now all up to date with Jackson Brodie, though I feel I might need to do a quick refresh on the next two books, When Will There Be Good News? and Started Early,Took My Dog. Not for their story lines but for all the interaction with Jackson as I feel the first two books give a lot of background to him, which the later books do not simply regurgitate to bring the reader up to date, (something which I hate), but hint at, making you want to go and find out more! Although I hope there will be more Jackson Brodie at some point.

I still have some more of Kate Atkinson’s back catalogue to go through, though perhaps this time not putting myself under pressure to read them.

Books · Witterings

Jackson Brodie – Imagination or Television

So what did we all make of the adaptation of Case Histories by Kate Atkinson? Did it live up to the book? My review can be found here. Should it have never been made?

There are probably more questions, but let us see where this post goes and develops.

as Lucius Malfoy

I have to be honest, I like the adaptation, it kept me interested, and suited the Sunday Night slot very well. The casting for Jackson Brodie (Jason Isaacs – that will be Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films for those who do not know) was probably after thinking about it, very good. Better to cast a relative unknown face of television in the role and hoping the story stands up on its own merits, than casting a well known (think Sir David Jason, Kevin Wheatley and the ilk) and hoping that draws the audience in. The casting of Natasha Little as Julia was clever, she really added something to the character. In fact all the female roles were well cast, especially the young girl who plays Marlee, Jackson’s daughter. I feel she shapes Jackson in many ways but also the child observations on what she sees “been to a convent, seen a fight” puts life into perspective. I hope that in the subsequent two programmes we see more of Marlee.

Jackson Brodie and his daughter Marlee

It stuck to the book honestly, the only major change being the location Cambridge suddenly becomes Edinburgh, although in the next programme which is based on One Good Turn, the book is set in Edinburgh. (I am currently reading it at the moment) Plus DI Louise Monroe does not feature in the book. And what is left in the Will was different, presumably to keep viewers tuning in.

There are some obvious characters taken out, and I can see why because they would have probably confused the plots more than necessary. If the programme had been longer than 2, 1 hour slots then maybe there would have been more scope, but no doubt it is a tricky job in adapting books for screen.

The Guardian described it as “Fun, fast and just a bit baffling, detective drama Case Histories is just right for Sunday night viewing” and “Case Histories is not too demanding, even if I’m not sure what exactly’s going on – to the right of Midsomer and Lewis, a little to the left of Wallander, on a low-to highbrow TV detective scale”. The BBC Points of View Messageboard seems to give it a thumbs up, and there are plenty of high praised comments about Phil Davis who plays Theo Wyre. Here certainly he brought the rather creepiness of a father and his overpowering love for his daughter very much to life. There are also plenty of ‘witty’ comments regarding accents but I will leave those unsaid as I lost the will to live after reading some of them.

Should it have been made? Well the age old questions is the book better than the film – to me the answer is always yes of course. One persons imagination is very different to the next, and a tv adaptation is all about one person or a collective of imaginations brought together to portray the book. This worked, other than the few changes it stuck faithfully to the book, yes there were bits added in for ‘tv’ no doubt, the pounding of the streets running (a tool for us to see him reflecting on all that had happened to him), the sexual scenes we were warned of at the beginning and the grainy flashbacks to his childhood.

Has anyone else seen it and made any sort of comparison with the book? Have I perhaps missed something? What I do know is I enjoyed it, and that it was a good adaptation of a book by an author who as I read more and more of her work, I enjoy it more and more. The character of Jackson Brodie, is flawed but not in the normal “detective” way that flaws are shown think loner in a rain-mac lives on convenience food, etc. This is a detective with a difference, a background which affects the current. A strong male character surrounded not just by his own flaws but those of the women he encounters.

It is difficult to conclude this post where we have two more stories to cover and probably lots more comparisons to make. I have already read the third story When Will There Be Good News?  but have just got into One Good Turn so I leave you now whilst I see if the next programme on Sunday BBC1 2100 lives up to the first.

Books

The Checkout Girl – Tazeen Ahmad

Next time you are in the queue…

…spare a thought for the COG – that is Checkout Girl or Guy who is serving you. They could well be sizing you up to cast you in a story but at the same time they will be letting you in on a few secrets from their side of the till.

Tazeen Ahmad spends 6 months working at Sainsbury’s as one of these COGS towards the end of 2008 and the beginning of what some have called the worst recession since the 1930s. Here is an insight into how the recession affects the weekly shop.

Read this book because you will see an insight not just into the wonder concept of ‘the customer – the general public’ but also how a large supermarket works and ultimately how they treat their staff. The customers who do not want to converse with the COG, to those who play their personal lives out in front of a stranger.  The elderly who avoid the weekend rushes, and those who push their luck with their financial budgets. There is many a trick that some customers play to get the most of the money with vouchers, and point’s but also convincing their other half’s that they have not spent so much at all!

I was really surprised at the treatment of the staff by such a large employer. There was a lot of emphasis on making the customer experience so high that the customer comes back again again despite some of the higher prices that other supermarkets. I do not think it has reached my local Sainsbury’s…. and the amount of work the company are getting out of their COGS for free is fairly shocking if it is added up.

It made me smile, and I will recall the funny and frustrating moments next time I am in the queue when those wonderful tannoy announcements ask for all till trained staff to report to the tills and miraculously no one appears…… Sainsbury’s Black Hole needs to be filled!

The reason for picking this book above the other ‘my life on the checkout’ books which seem to increasing by the day, is this one kept coming up on Kindle through the most recommended, movers and shakers etc. It seemed from that worth a go, I tried a sample and was hooked immediately so bought the book. It was as simple as that. I do enjoy these types of books, I am thinking here the the Babylon books by Imogen Edward-Jones and the infamous Anonymous. These are for when I feel I want to read but do not want to get involved too much, if you will some peripheral reading! 

Books

The Collaborator – Margaret Leroy

The cover of this book and the corresponding title The Collaborator in some way give a potential reader exactly what this book is going to be about. A woman falls in love with a Nazi. And that is the basis of the story, in many ways. However Margaret Leroy, a new author to me, gives this a completely different dimension, setting and a range of emotions to work through with the main character and as a reader.

The setting of this novel is occupied Guernsey, during the Second World War. The book opens as Vivienne, is trying to decide what is best for her family. Her husband has already gone to fight in the war, and it is apparent that Vivienne is living a lie by loving him, but to maintain the perfect image she brings up their children Blanche, recently left school and ready to take on the world and Millie, a sprightly young girl who has lots of spirit and sees the world in much simpler terms without question. Vivienne also has her mother in law staying at Le Colombier, the family home where she is the first stages of dementia and cannot understand where her son his, and does not wished to be moved from her life on her home island.

Vivienne makes a decision which affects them all in different ways and soon the Germans move into the property next door to hers, and the occupation of Guernsey takes on a different outlook.  From an historical point of view this book shows some of what happened during occupation, and there are some rather nasty scenes. It mentions the banning of radio sets, curfews and repatriation of non Guernsey born people, but these are almost the background and in my opinion rather skated over. Other issues are dealt with perhaps more clarity. The slave camps are housing men who have been luckily enough to survive the journey there and are just looking for a way out. Vivienne, then sees a different side to the Germans and their treatment of others, how can they treat another human being so when she has been treated with such love.

Vivienne finds herself drawn to one German officer in particular who shows what exactly love can be like, even if it has to be kept a secret, in the darkness of the night, with no one to share the joy with. Vivienne then begins to questions the actions of the war and the reasons behind events that begin to unfold. The ultimate question is how well do you ever really know someone? Will Vivienne ever find what she is seems to be looking for through those occupied years on Guernsey.

Margaret Leroy evokes much emotion with this book, through all the secrets and lies that are told to maintain a facade to those on the outside whilst your own inside is in complete turmoil. However, one feature that remains constant throughout the book is the nature of the island. The seasons move through winter to summer and back again, everything carries on growing, living, hibernating and dying before new life is breathed in it once again. Leroy has used some excellent prose to emphasise the way nature is the constant and that no matter what is going in outside of the war, outside of the island, there will be this love of the landscape, nature and all that is grown from it. Thus providing Vivienne with the only stable thing in her life.

A love story at its core, it is not a will they won’t they, happy ever after, it is a love story full of morals and ethics and whether love can traverse prejudices, countries and war. This book is going to be one those slow burners during the year that eventually everyone will catch on to.

Thank you to Amazon Vine, for allowing me the opportunity to read this book. 

Normally I still have so many comments I wish to write about this book, and in some ways I do but I think all I would do is end up reciting passages of the book which moved me. Therefore hopefully the review does it justice and piques people’s interests into reading the book. Two things I take from this book, the perpetual line in the book “can you ever really know someone” makes me ponder many paths that I have taken in my life. The other is the historical element, which I would love to know more about. 

Some reviewers have refered to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and that is without a doubt one of the best books I have ever read, but I really believe that it should and does stand alone in comparison with this book. I endeavour to do a little bit of research and find out a bit more, either through fiction or non fiction.