Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Soldier's Wife

The Soldier's Wife
Margaret Leroy
Hyperion, 2011

I came across this book shortly after reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which I loved. This is also set on Guernsey during World War II, and I was intrigued. I found myself reading at night, at lunch, and whenever I had ten minutes to spare, although ten minutes was never enough.

Vivienne de la Mare is living on Guernsey with her two daughters and her mother-in-law; her husband is off fighting in the war. As the island is invaded by German soldiers, she must decide whether to remain at home, or leave for London. After making all of the preparations to leave, Vivienne, while waiting on the dock and seeing how many people are leaving and how small the boat is, changes her mind. The family remains on the island, much to the consternation of the oldest daughter.

The island residents face occupation, the bombing of the harbor, rationing and curfews...and several try to do something to make a difference, to stand up to the Germans. When Vivienne begins an affair with one of the German soldiers next door, she not only hides the affair from her family and friends, but also hides a big secret from the soldier, one that could possibly cause harm to her family.

The writing is so descriptive - you can see the island and the gardens, and you know the characters. "Daffodil-yellow mornings" is the phrase that still stays in my mind weeks after reading it. When Vivienne eats a piece of chocolate after not having had it for so long, you feel how much she enjoys it. Because the writing was so engaging, and brought the story to life in other parts, I really noticed the affair for being less so - it didn't seem as developed, and as real, as the rest of the story. But, I think that's okay. I picked this up expecting the story of a community, and more specifically, of a family dealing with the war. That's what I go, and that's what I enjoyed.

The novel explores the impact of war on the home front, on the soldier's wife left behind, but it goes beyond that, to question playing it safe versus living, to explore the things people tell themselves to get through difficult situations, and to wonder what is more regrettable - things done, or the things left undone.

Reviewed from an ARC (Maybe received in a giveaway from the publisher? I can't remember.)

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