A Sister’s Song
The second in Green’s The Victory Sisters series, this wartime saga has Suzanne Linfoot, a talented violinist, joining the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) in 1943 and being sent to Malta to entertain the troops – as a singer. Suzanne’s story is rich in period color, with the author weaving in plenty of authentic detail, even down to how torches were muted in the Blackout. The American jazz singer Adelaide Hall is given a major role; Ivy Benson with her ground-breaking all-female swing band is referenced; and Suzanne and her companions sail on the SS Orbita, a Belfast-built ocean liner commandeered as a troop ship. Suzanne leaves back home her unrelievedly unsympathetic French mother and a mystery about her parentage. The man she is falling in love with, James, is serving in the Navy, but his location (inevitably) is unknown to her.
What Green gets across so well is that wartime in a real sense provided young women with emancipating experiences they could not otherwise have had. The only wrong note historically-speaking comes with the description of Suzanne’s visit to the Royal Opera House for her audition, and a reference to “pretty little shops” in Covent Garden, when that area of London was still dominated by its vast fruit-and-vegetable market, that would have been unmissable but doesn’t get a mention. Plot-wise, there is probably too much reliance on coincidence: amongst the thousands of military personnel being moved around Europe, what would realistically have been the chances of the heroine encountering two characters so central to her life, one after the other, in the only two places where she disembarks? However, because she is likeable and determined, the reader is glad of the discoveries Suzanne makes, and the nature of her happy ending is both unexpected and deserved.