HQ Fiction Australia, 2020 (an imprint of Harlequin Enterprises, a subsidiary of HarperCollins Publishers Australia)
This is Kerri Turner’s second historical fiction novel. It is set between 1942 and 1963 in Britain and is very much the story of the restrictions and freedoms society placed, and to some extent continues to place, on women.
The impacts of war and other forms of violence are explored at a macro level – we interest ourselves in the personal stories of the men and women in this novel and the wounds they carry from what they have seen, done and had done to them, as well as their capacity for re-invention and courage.
Evelyn/Evie, our main female protagonist, lives a restricted life as a single woman in her parent’s household, temporarily released by the opportunity to work in the 93rd Searchlight Regiment, spotting enemy planes and helping the allied planes to safe landing. But, like many women after WW11, Evelyn was expected to return to housewifely duties and the search for a suitable husband.
Finding that she simply couldn’t bear that, she embarks on a new career in stage lighting for a burlesque show presented from a ship called The Victory (not Nelson’s famous ship HMS Victory, which you can visit as a permanent museum in Portsmouth Harbour). This creates a whole new world of relationships for her and with guidance and friendship from the extraordinary performer Bee, she becomes Evie, in Humphrey Walsh’s theatre company. Here, in this strange sanctuary, everyone is, in a sense, ‘the rescued’.
Meanwhile another story of war is playing out in the characters of Americans Flynn and his fire-eating rescuer Alvin. In this strand of the story we see the effects of PTSD on those tasked with collecting the dead and body parts from battle scenes, something less written of in war history.
As we move into the 1960s the story becomes that of Lucy, Evie’s daughter, who also suffers for a time from the mean-mindedness of Evie’s mother. In the end it is love that rescues both Lucy and Flynn from their misery and enables them both to finally know what it is to be a family.
Kerri Turner has created a band of characters in whom we immediately feel invested. The story and its various threads, moves along at a satisfying pace, inviting us to consider many ideas about the way family and society can both constrain and liberate us.
Kerri is an author who is comfortable in historical milieu. She researches well and entwines history with story without making us feel she is lecturing us. This is a book we leave with a sense of hopefulness, a much needed commodity in the real world as well as the fictitious.