Don’t Pass Me By
London, 1940. Desperate to escape from Billy, her violent soldier husband, Lydia seizes the chance when a blast destroys their flat. She flees with her infant daughter but without family to turn to, she joins a party of schoolchildren being evacuated from Bermondsey to South Wales. But has Billy survived the blast or is he dead? The evacuees are placed with local families in a small village. Lydia and the baby are delivered to the local doctor, a taciturn bachelor, to act as his housekeeper. The novel follows three characters: Lydia; Arfur, an East End urchin, homesick for his mother, an amateur prostitute, and their scrappy life together; and Amy, who is billeted with a sour Chapel widow and her unappetising son. The children must adjust to rural life with people who often speak a different language. The villagers resent this invasion of raucous, unhappy Londoners who are afraid of farm animals and bored by the country while missing their families and the busy streets. For Lydia and the doctor, their mutual attraction brings complications.
So far, so predictable. But among the plot clichés and stereotypes (are there no pleasant Chapel members in Wales?) McGowan has put in enough twists to keep the reader turning pages. One child, in particular, has a very harrowing time. The village and the villagers are strongly depicted, as is the countryside. The children are so alive they jump off the page. Perhaps the ending is a bit too convenient, but this is a well-constructed, very well-written novel and a most enjoyable read.