Martha’s Girls presents itself nicely and professionally. The cover has a simple elegance to it, introducing the main characters and the urban setting (Belfast City Hall) by using vintage pictures, while the faded colouring adds a sense of nostalgia to the whole. It succinctly guides the readers to a family story of times past, focused on female characters. The professional presentation is kept throughout the book—only a few typos in an overall pleasant and readable layout.
The narrative tells of the misadventures of the Goulding sisters during the Second World War in Belfast, and how their mother, Martha, recently widowed, looked after them making do with very little. The girls became known as the Golden Sisters, singing in a show dedicated to keeping morale high during hard times. The story focuses on how the girls react to the incoming Nazi threat to Europe while growing up and facing first heartbreaks and disillusions.
The premise and the detailed historical research make for a pleasant reading experience, recreating the atmosphere and cultural climate of the time through accurate descriptions. Where the book slightly disappoints is in the narrative pacing and characterization. The girls’ adventures (meeting suitors, losing and finding jobs, and making new friends up to a brief involvement with the IRA and the Catholic/Protestant troubles and surviving the first bombings of the city) are depicted in a series of vignettes which are too quickly resolved, one following the other with little pathos. In part, this lack of created suspense is due to the ‘telling’ style of writing that focuses on recreating the unity and ‘good feel’ of the family ties. Readers interested in Ireland from a more domestic angle, however, will certainly enjoy this book.