Wartime at Woolworths by Elaine Everest
This book makes me think of two authors I’ve enjoyed – Catherine Cookson, whom I haven’t read in a long time so I may be very off, and Maeve Binchy, a favourite of mine who died a few years ago (and who somehow I still received two books of hers I haven’t read yet for Christmas 2019 – yes!).
What are the common denominators – small town, British, largely well meaning people, usually historical (but primarily 20th century forward), centering women and families and female friendships but still very traditional re gender politics, and for want of a better word, cosy. Yes, cosy. Even when life and death stakes are in play – as in the case of Wartime at Woolworths which is set during the second World War.
That latter fact is what sparked my interest. While war is always present in the rationing and bomb shelters and the doodlebugs (something I learned about reading this book), and the fact that there are so many women in the workplace, for the time, the story though is far from the frontlines.
That said, it does have some exciting close calls – once in London where one character ends up dead after a crush in the underground where people ran for shelter and once where a whole section of a house was blown away, and two other houses and their inhabitants blown away altogether by a doodlebug, and major characters injured; so that you never forget that Britain is at war. Mostly though, the war is a backdrop, as is their professional lives to the domestic concerns of women at different stages of life – weddings, and births, and family, and friendships (especially so the unique bond between women). So that it feels… cosy.
It’s not, strictly speaking, my cup of tea (I really hoped to like it more than I did), though it might be yours. The book is part of a series so there’s stuff that’s gone before which I was not aware of as a reader, not so much as to have me feeling disoriented but that feeling you have when you become the new one in a group of friends who’ve known each other a long time. Also, and perhaps not unrelated to that point, it’s a lot of people to keep track of – if the character didn’t imprint strongly enough, I would have to flip back some pages to remind myself (part of this is due to how I read, i.e. not in a continuous way, but this is truly a heavily populated ensemble piece).
The story lags in parts but is not uninteresting overall, following this or that woman’s stories for a time before spotlighting another’s all while intertwining their lives. Structurally, the story is bookended by a major bombing; though by the time the forward momentum of the story was interrupted to return to the tragic opening event I had actually forgotten about that event and had to do more of that flipping back. The most interesting adventures for me were probably Freda’s and Maisie’s both of whom go searching for their mothers, a reminder that more than war separates families, both with different outcomes. There’s also a bit of crime, a bit of romance, an attempt to smuggle a pregnant woman and her baby out of a hospital; lots of goings on to hold a reader’s interest and a reminder that as war went on, life at home did too.
I believe I won this one in a giveaway online and I thank the author for it, and do think fans of this type of book or persons with an interest in the period will genuinely enjoy it.
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