Secrets of the Singer Girls

Written by Kate Thompson
Review by Marilyn Sherlock

The story begins in the east end of London in the spring of 1942. The Singer girls get their name from the fact that they are all working at Singer sewing machines, helping the war effort in one of the many factories in the area. We meet Poppy, sent up to London from Norfolk by her mother; Sal, whose husband is away at the front and her two boys evacuated to Devon; Daisy; Vera, forelady in the factory; and Archie Gladstone who runs it. As the story unfolds we learn that all the girls have a secret which they are anxious to hide.

The novel touches on the Blitz, rationing, evacuation of children and culminates in the Bethnal Green Tube disaster of 1943. It brings in the morals and prejudices of the time but, for this reader, it was flat. The “secrets” were obvious from the word go, with only one small instance where I did get it wrong, and it all became something of an anticlimax. The prose was stilted and liberally punctuated with unnecessary adjectives. For example: “Staring deep into the dying embers of the coal fire she had lit in the grate in Daisy’s bedroom…” We already knew she was in Daisy’s bedroom and where else would the fire have been but in the grate? People “exit” from rooms instead of simply “leaving” them. Little things like this spoilt the flow of the narrative. This author has considerable experience writing for broadsheets and women’s magazines, but that is not necessarily the art of story-telling, which is what a good novel needs.