A Woman’s War

Written by S. Block
Review by Mary Fisk

Simon Block was behind the TV drama Home Fires, and his novel Keep the Home Fires Burning (2018) was reviewed in HNR 86. These introduced members of the Great Paxford Women’s Institute in rural Cheshire as they confronted the challenges of the first months of World War 2.

The storyline now picks up in November 1940. A speech from WI Chair, Frances, acts as a “previously on” such as one might get with a TV series, but I think that too much is still assumed about the reader’s knowledge of the characters. We are flung into the middle of these women’s stories – and are left, at the end, on a cliffhanger of sorts.

Pat is subjected to emotional and physical violence by her husband but dreams of a post-war future with her Czech lover; seventeen-year old Laura wonders if she could be a doctor, like her late father; Teresa loves women, but has chosen the safety of marriage; Steph has shot and killed a downed Luftwaffe pilot and is haunted by guilt at the life she has taken.

The narrative is split between these four main voices with the effect that one is whisked too quickly out of one and into another, so sometimes the thread is lost. Viewpoint also tends to jump distractingly from character to character within scenes. The only narrative that really engaged me was Steph’s.

There are some instances of careless editing. On one occasion, Frances changes gender and makes an appearance as Francis!