That Liverpool Girl - Ruth Hamilton
Why read this one?
Having begun my own novel, my first, which is based in WW2 I knew that I should read some similar offerings in order to learn what is good and what is not so good for my own style and progress. Along with that reason I was drawn to this one by the cover and the synopsis. It had an element of romance involved, as mine does, and that appealed. I hoped for a good read and to learn from Ruth's accomplishments.
War is confirmed. This shouldn't be happening as the Great War should have been the last but someone has ants in his pants and needs to start a battle. Folk from Liverpool know they will be targeted as they have the docks. Talk of evacuation means that Nellie and her daughter Eileen have choices to make. Both single it would make a new start but then there is Mel, Eileen's very talented and even more beautiful daughter who, at only thirteen, is promising to be a scholar. She needs to stay in the city to attend school. Eileen is torn between two sweethearts - one who should be forbidden but is he too sweet a fruit to resist?
Can Hilter break their spirit?...
I was ready for a romance and with this one being based in the war it had other interests for me too - research wise. I wanted to see just how much description and events where included and would they take my mind away from the actual story of three very strong women? I began to read with anticipation and hoped for some passion to infuse these war torn pages.
Hamilton has a lovely style of writing and I soon settled with that and found the flow and structure nice. Grammar was good and the inclusion of dialect not too intrusive to make the read difficult. What did disappoint, for the first 80 pages or so, was that the mundane was detailed a little too much for my taste. It was great to be getting to know the characters and their dynamics but I really didn't need to know the extent of dish washing and what food peelings were to be cleared, although I think that Hamilton was good at presenting how folk began to struggle with rations later in the prose. It may just be me that is an impatient reader but I wanted to have some action and story development a little sooner.
I have to confess that it crossed my mind to stop reading and choose another book at page 80. I didn't as I don't like to do that if I can avoid it and also I remembered Stephen King's wise words in his book 'On Writing' where he says that you can learn from good and bad books it is no use just reading the best ones when learning the craft as you need to know what to avoid doing too. With that in mind I continued and I am glad as the book soon began to heat up and become much more interesting.
The three main protagonists are from the same family and are Nellie, who has a daughter named Eileen; and Mel who is Eileen's daughter. Eileen has three sons who are younger - Phil, Rob and Bertie. These three women are Liverpool girls and have been living in poverty - happily. This came across beautifully and with strength, I was in little doubt of the culture and comradeship that was present in their small row of terraced homes. Hamilton is great at evoking scenes in the imagination and I could easily imagine the environment and even the smells around that little area where everyone knew each other well.
Mel is beautiful and clever and doing very well in a private school - soon to be bound for University 'thank you very much'! Her traits are interesting and believable for a girl of that age, knowing how to use her beauty to her advantage and having an answer for everything due to her brains and quick thinking nature. She is a likeable girl and has an element of compassion but also a sly and cunning side to her which was less appealing, but at the same time I admired her. You have to remember that at that time women were still respected less than men - she was prepared to do battle with that situation.
I was surprised when it turned out to be her mother, Eileen, who was the focus of the romantic/passionate element in the prose. I was glad because at thirteen I would have found it difficult to identify with Mel in a romantic way but in the same respect I wondered if I would find romance in Eileen's life of interest? This was a new concept for me in a romance piece as I normally have protagonists that are in their early twenties to read about. Time would tell if this fiery and independent woman, who is also a rare beauty, would be appealing in this lead role. The suitors, too, were a little out of my comfort zone as they were both mature and not entirely of interest. Tom is a local doctor who is married with two children, one who happens to be Mel's best friend and I felt uncomfortable when he began to notice Mel and become aroused. Keith is a land lord based in Bolton in the rural area where evacuees will be headed - he began to court Eileen via letters after meeting her once. I don't know how I felt about that, was it believable? Too good to be true on both parts? Love happens in different ways so I was willing to take a chance on that one and see where Ruth Hamilton was headed.
The prose is set in two areas which was realistic and true to life. Hamilton is very well up on the history of the Second World War and the events that led up to the arrival of the Americans. I felt that the timeline of events where slotted in to the story very well and everything flowed with ease. The small collection of people who are joined by war become well developed and I felt like I knew them well by the end of the book. I like good character development so that box was ticked easily.
A lady, who I liked very much, among a host of other female characters, was Miss Hilda Pickervance. Initially aloof this lady changed with the circumstance of war and it was really nice to see her go from a single, lonely woman who lived alone to an heiress in the country who has saved her neighbours and also become like family to them. She is a very likeable woman because she has compassion but also a strength that no one knew was there. In fact the whole cast of female characters have strength and power oozing from them. The three leading ladies are impressive, gritty women who will not lie down and be beaten - even though they are loud mouthed, crude and assertive they worked their way into my heart. I really respected them and genuinely liked them. They are the kind of women that you would want on your side and around you in a situation like war.
The men in the prose were likeable but if I am honest the two suitors for Eileen, Tom and Keith, held little appeal for me. I enjoyed seeing the relationships and battles develop, there was lots of humour too - but I never really felt any passion. Don't get me wrong Hamilton has included moments of intimacy and I don't need any erotica to satisfy me - I just didn't feel intense, burning passion. Some books have a build up to two lovers connecting after a time of not being able to be together and when that moment arrives my heart is pounding and I have goose bumps - that wasn't evident in this story.
I enjoyed the intensity that filled the pages when bombs were dropped and I witnessed the horror and effects that it had on the people of Liverpool - that did touch me and was thought provoking. I also enjoyed the time spent in the rural land of Bolton which brought a lovely sense of community and kindness into the pages. I think those are great strengths in Hamilton's writing and she does it very well. She has researched thoroughly and it shows. I was impressed.
Nearing the end of the tale I was wondering what the outcome was going to be as the love triangle was still there even though Eileen's situation had changed. Dr Tom was in his forties but acting like a love sick boy. He has resolved issues of a delicate nature with his wife, Marie, and they share some tender and rather more heated moments of joy - this got me to like him a little more - but then he was off again on his predatory hunt for a woman who I didn't believe he loved, it was more like an infatuation and based on his actions that is how I still feel about his feelings for Eileen.
I didn't attach to Tom but neither did I attach to Keith so I wouldn't have been bothered either way when Eileen chose, if she ever did choose.
The closing scenes are very tidy, perhaps a little too neat but at least nothing is left unsaid and undone. I felt happy when I finished the book but not satisfied - does that make sense? It is by no means a bad book at all, Hamilton writes very well and the plot flowed well. Historic facts were great and the dynamics of the, well-developed, characters was super. I just felt like I wanted more intensity in the passion department and a slight touch more grittiness to the story.
It has confused me this one - it has some great aspects but just lacks in something else, that something that would have made it satisfying.
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It's a good read this one, after about page 80. That is just my opinion though as I don't like too much detail of everyday activities like washing up - I don't really want to read about that. After said page, or thereabouts, the story gets going properly and I did want to keep picking up the book and seeing what the Liverpool and Boltonian women were up to. War history was impressive and Hamilton excels here. Plot line was neat and another feather in the bow of this author who has a nice style which is easy to read. The men folk are developed nicely but just didn't do it for me. I loved the female characters who were strong and capable - very appealing traits in female characters. Humour is a nice aside in this prose and the romance element made me happy in the end but not entirely satisfied - just a bit more and with grittiness would have hit the spot. The book gets four stars as on the whole it is a good read and very well composed. I would recommend if you want a feel good read based in the Second World War. It is heart-warming more than passionate.
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© Dawnymarie 2013