When the Clouds Go Rolling By
Liverpool, 1918. The Great War is drawing to a close. Nineteen-year-old Clara O’Toole lives with her crabby grandmother, Bernie. Clara’s father has been killed in France and her grandmother’s estrangement from her daughter, Gertie, and grandson, Sebastian, means that Clara has no other family, so she is thrilled when she discovers Alice Bennett, Seb’s wife. But is she prepared for the various skeletons in the family cupboard?
When Alice hears that Seb, who has been missing, believed killed, is alive, she is overjoyed. But Seb is not the man he was; his wounds have made him morose and uncommunicative. Alice, whose own father was violent, begins to fear her husband. Then there is Gertie, who, as a young girl, ran away to become a singer. She plainly doesn’t care about her son, Seb, and never visits. And what about the villainous Bert, thought dead in the war, but could he be back? Alice has enough on her plate: the last thing she wants is a visit from Clara.
June Francis is good at evoking the reality of life in wartime, the privations and the small pleasures, including the Picture Palace, where Clara finds a job. And the book certainly sweeps one along.
My main problem – the book is the 6th in the series – is that, with a large cast, and the previous stories intertwining over several generations, it’s difficult to work out who is who and what has been going on. There are four characters with a reputation for violence, for example, and a number of family estrangements. I never did quite work out how the villainous Bert comes into it. It really needs a family tree.
However, the history of the period comes alive in a very natural way, and I’m sure that June Francis fans won’t be disappointed.