Loving Enemies

Written by Jeannie Johnson
Review by Geoffrey Harfield

This is a gritty saga set in Bristol at the start of WW2. It immediately draws the reader in as sons leave to fight, daughters lose their virginity and mothers worry. That September, Mary Anne Randall, a working-class mother of four and a cut above the rest, runs a pawnshop in her wash-house. The war takes sons away but brings an enigmatic stranger into Mary Anne’s life. In both unusual and authentic settings – the wash-house, a pawnshop and the black-out – put-upon women and their grown up children struggle to better themselves.

Jeannie Johnson includes a full range of lifelike, well-drawn characters, from the fat, tarty neighbour down on her luck and Mary Anne’s son with a weak chest, to a drunken husband and the comfortably-off widow with a handsome son. Mary Anne has a bad marriage to a stereotypical, boozy rotter. Why is it so many writers for women have a down on their male characters? Are we men all violent, boozy, dirty, lechers? Or does portraying them as such sell books?

This is a well-planned, fast moving family story which races to a too brief conclusion. If there were criticisms I could make, it would be in the anachronisms. I am informed Gold Top milk was not around in 1939. It was called Grade A then. Similarly ‘streetwise’ is a far more recent term, and while an Austin seven was contemporary to the period, only a midget girl could lie across the back seat or make satisfactory love on it.

A fine read, set in a time of change, Loving Enemies will have a very wide appeal.