Neither the nondescript title, nor the bleak cover, does justice to this outstanding wartime saga, a charming family story with excellently-drawn young characters. Four sons and two daughters have lost their father to an old war wound. On a Fenland farm they get to grips with division of their land to honour their father’s will. But there is a barely tolerated, erotically exciting young stepmother. With an excellent sense of the time, the family of grown-up orphans comes to terms with labour shortages, Dunkirk horrors, war work, money and property problems. Refreshingly, this book shows cross-class generosity. The rich do not throw their weight around. Labouring husbands are not drunken lechers. It makes a change to read a story where the problem of poverty is absent and steady girls marry fighter pilots.
This novel, which extracts every grain of emotional value from events, shows the best of humanity in wartime, subtly underlining sex as nature’s driving force and the last fence to climb. Brilliant love stories interweave as young characters develop into responsible adults and marriages come thick and fast. There is a sensitive approach to homosexuality as one young wife sees her injured husband and lover kissing in his hospital ward. I dislike clichés appearing in book narration. We have ‘strings could be pulled’, ‘really did them proud’, and ‘swelling the numbers’ in one paragraph followed quickly by ‘joined in with a will’. Born well before the war, I have never heard airmen here described as ‘fly-boys’. In Britain this was reserved for spivs. There are a few anachronisms. Photos (which were expensive to have printed at the chemist’s) were rarely shared with friends, and what was a carrycot in 1940?
The book cleverly winds up tension to the end. It is one of the very best wartime sagas and a pleasure to review.