The Heroine: Vivienne de la Mare, an housewife struggling to take care of her two daughters on the French island of Guernsey during the German Occupation, beginning in 1940. With her estranged husband off at war, Vivienne finds herself falling in love with a German soldier living next door. Shy, thoughtful, dreamy and wistful for love, Vivienne is caught in a moral dilemma: how can she love a man responsible for the death and destruction that surrounds her on her dear island?
The Highs: The description in this book is reminiscent of Madame Bovary: colourful details, metaphors and beautiful prose paint a picture of the Guernsey flora and fauna, the domestic details of life in the 1940s and vintage clothing that appeals to all five senses. Elegantly written, the story flows naturally and organically. To add to the whimsical appeal to the book, the author uses the fairy tales Vivienne reads to her younger daughter to reflect on the events in their lives, an adorable use of fore-shadowing.
I also love the character of Vivienne herself. Her inner conflicts are really the main focus of the story, not her love affair. She displays amazing bravery in a way that is believable for her characters and is so admirable as both a woman and a mother. Forced to juggle to roles of nurturer, protector and provider (so much like the modern woman), Vivienne navigates her choices with an inspiring amount of capability.
All the characters in this story are very interesting, well-written and thoroughly developed: Vivienne's young daughter Millie, precocious and still living in a world of make-believe; Vivienne's teenage daughter Blanche, yearning for a glamourous life in London; and Evelyn, Vivienne's mother-in-law who is balancing on the edge of sanity. This is predominantly a book about women and relationships between women. The author manages to make each character distinctly real and creates a domestic world that makes it all believable.
The Lows: There are parts of the story where I longed for more detail, such as on the intricacies of surviving winter with little food and resources. I think, by holding back the details, the author made life during the Occupation seem easier than it probably was. I'm a stickler for historical fact, so I drink up these sort of things.
I also wish the hero, Gunther, was more appealing. While I can understand why Vivienne would be interested in him, I didn't feel that there was enough sexual tension to make their attraction seem truly real. I think that their affair would have made more sense (considering the risk Vivienne was taking by being with him) if Gunther seemed more irresistible.
Final Thoughts: I'm longing for a sea view off the coast of France, a pair of silk stocking and a cup of coffee in my back garden after reading this. The Soldier's Wife is a gorgeous book that I enjoyed reading.
Rating: The Soldier's Wife earns seven floral teacups out of ten. Vive la France!
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Connect with author Margaret Leroy here
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