May Thorpe is 11 years old on the night of the air raid on Coventry. Her adored brother Jack is missing after Dunkirk and her sister Florrie about to join the Wrens. But that night is the beginning of a sequence of tragic events that leads May to promise her mother never to speak of her shameful past.
Seventy years on, sixth formers Daisy and Marcus are sent to interview May for a history project. An inter-generational friendship develops, but both teenagers have troubles of their own…
Despite the blurb, this is essentially a contemporary novel, with only the prologue set during World War II. Considering the subject matter, it’s a surprisingly cosy read, with the characters depicted with warmth and humour.
Unfortunately, this results in a distinct lack of narrative tension. It never feels as if any of the characters is in any real danger, physically or emotionally. May comes across as too twinkly and well-balanced for somebody meant to be still haunted by unresolved traumas, and since we are told (almost) everything that happened to her during the war in the prologue, there isn’t even any mystery to unravel.
Daisy’s fears of an arranged marriage seem frankly ludicrous, given that her English mother is a hotshot lawyer and her Indian father is depicted as enlightened and nurturing. Marcus’s life is possibly the most precarious as sole carer for his grieving, agoraphobic, alcoholic mother, Alison, but the potential drama is neutralised by taking place off-stage.
A couple of historical ‘facts’ mentioned are simply wrong – it wasn’t illegitimate but unbaptised babies that were denied burial in consecrated ground, and high-waisted frocks didn’t come into fashion till long after 1768.
Recommended only to those who want a gentle, undemanding read that won’t give them nightmares.