I’ll be reviewing each book in turn; this time it’s book #4, The Chalky Sea: An epic story of war’s impact on ordinary people (The Canadians Book 1) by Clare Flynn
Two troubled people struggle to find their way in a turbulent world.
In July 1940, Gwen Collingwood drops her husband at the railway station, knowing she may never see him again. Two days later her humdrum world is torn apart when the sleepy English seaside town where she lives is subjected to the first of many heavy bombing attacks.
In Ontario, Canada, Jim Armstrong is debating whether to volunteer. His decision becomes clear when he uncovers the secret his fiancée has been keeping from him. A few weeks later he is on a ship bound for England.
Gwen is forced to confront the truth she has concealed about her past and her own feelings. Jim battles with a bewildering and hostile world far removed from the cosy life of his Canadian farm. War brings horror and loss to each of them – can it also bring change and salvation?
From the author of The Pearl of Penang, this sweeping, epic story, is the first in a series of three novels which explore how war – and its aftermath – dramatically changes lives.
I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and, once again, have loved reading this one.
The story starts in 1940; WWII has begun and with it national conscription. Gwen must say goodbye to her husband, Roger as he leaves for a role that will mean she’ll never know where he is or if he is safe. As someone who, from an early age, has pushed down her emotions, she comes across as quite aloof in her goodbye but later the reasons behind her buttoned-up front are made clear. She’s carrying a lot of guilt and, for that reason alone, she has spared the suffering of others. It’s just who she is. But muddling on soon gets her down, a big house to look after and little to occupy her waking hours, she joins the WVS and begins to see the impact of war through the eyes of those who have far less yet seem to value what they do have so much more, especially when it comes to their family and friends.
Across the pond, in Ontario, Jim is a farmer who loves his fiancée and since Canada has not yet been drawn into the war, he simply gets on with his life much to his father’s joy – a man who fought in The Great War and doesn’t want to see his sons embroiled in the new conflict. But when Jim learns of the relationship between his brother and fiancée, he no longer feels he can live out the war on the farm and, telling no one, he signs up and joins a Canadian battalion heading for England. Anything to put the shock of betrayal behind him, he doesn’t even care if he lives or dies.
The Canadian battalion, however, sees no action at all for many months, and Jim becomes disillusioned. Even more so when his brother turns up, now married to Jim’s former fiancée. Fortunately, Jim already has friends to rely on, and based in Aldershot, he is drawn out of the doldrums and to a local dance to support Greg, already enamoured with Ethel. Feeling like a gooseberry, Jim is left to “accompany” Ethel’s friend, Joan … and so begins a relationship fraught with misunderstandings and jerk reactions.
Meanwhile in Eastbourne, Gwen has lost her only staff, and has invited a young mother and her two children to move into the big house after their home is destroyed in a bombing blitz along the coast. It’s the beginning of an awakening for Gwen; life with Pauline and her kids opens Gwen’s eyes and heart to the joys and pain of family life during the war years. Class barriers are broken down to reveal real people with real issues and a real, gritty determination to survive.
When Jim’s battalion is posted to Eastbourne, he’s hopeful of a playing a proper role in the war only to find he is billeted at Gwen’s house and, unbeknownst to him, robbed her of a job translating radio messages, a job that has given Gwen a true sense of being useful and of contributing to the war effort. They don’t immediately hit it off as a result, but soon tensions thaw.
But the war obviously ends, and life must return to some kind of normality. Gwen expects Roger to return and Jim contemplates whether to return to Canada, but not before an old face from Aldershot requires him to return and tie up some loose ends with Joan. I’m so pleased this book has a sequel, as I want to know what happens to Jim and Gwen. Their stories are so very different, yet share a common thread. Their futures now look to be very different again, but not in any way either of them could have envisioned before the war.
Flynn’s descriptive writing beautifully brings the region alive and the sea’s mood compliments the dilemmas faced by the characters. There are certain aspects of the relationships that are quite easy to predict but I enjoyed how the author unravelled the details. A great read and a real saga to be enjoyed.
Finally, I’ll be reviewing the wonderfully titled Coffee and Vodka by Helena Halme (not sure when that will happen, but it will happen) If you’re interested in the other books in this collection, please take a look for yourself … and, enjoy!
Together for the first time: award-winners and trail-blazers. 5 international women authors showcase 5 unforgettable novels.
Blood Rose Angel, by Liza Perrat
1348, France. A bone-sculpted angel and the woman who wears it—heretic, Devil’s servant, saint.
Despite her bastardy, Héloïse has earned respect in the French village of Lucie-sur-Vionne for her midwifery and healing skills. Then the Black Death sweeps into France.
Hidden, by Linda Gillard
A birth. A death. Hidden for a hundred years.
1917.“Lady, fiancé killed, will gladly marry officer totally blinded or otherwise incapacitated by the war.” When Miranda Norton inherits Myddleton Mote and its art collection she is haunted by the dark secrets of a woman imprisoned in a reckless marriage.
The Chase, by Lorna Fergusson
The past will hunt you down.
Gerald Feldwick tells his wife Netty that in France they can put the past behind them. Alone in an old house, deep in the woods of the Dordogne, Netty is not so sure. Netty is right.
The Chalky Sea, by Clare Flynn
July 1940. When bombs fall, the world changes for two troubled people.
Gwen knows her husband might die in the field but thought her sleepy English seaside town was safe. Amid horror and loss, she meets Jim Armstrong, a soldier far from the cosy life of his Ontario farm. Can war also bring salvation?
Coffee and Vodka, by Helena Halme
Eeva doesn’t want to remember, but in Finland she must face her past.
‘In Stockholm, everything is bigger and better.’ Her Pappa’s hopes for a better life in another country adjust to the harsh reality but one night, Eeva’s world falls apart. Thirty years later, Eeva needs to know what happened.