When war is declared in 1939 Mary North, the daughter of a wealthy family, signs up to do her bit. She is assigned the role of teacher, which those who supervise her think she is wholly unsuited for and she is ordered to remain in London. Determined to do her bit, this fiery character seeks an audience with the education administrator and practically demands that he let her resume teaching those children not deemed suitable to be evacuated to the countryside. Tom agrees, and so marks the beginning of an unusual relationship.
Mary is passionate and her relationship with Tom becomes personal. This might have become a pedestrian romance in the hands of less engaging writers, but Cleave introduces a third character, Alistair, and thus begins a wholly engaging story.
The characters of Mary and Alistair are loosely based on Cleaves’s own grandparents, and the personal investment in this shone through in the tender portrayal of the relationship. Cleave is unflinching in his depiction of the wartime experience, and I felt the writing was evocative.
Though a happy ending seemed inevitable from the outset, I think that one of the strengths of this novel is the cast of characters surrounding our main trio. Throughout I was keen to know more about their experiences and how the war affected them.
Thank you to NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review.