That Liverpool Girl, by Ruth Hamilton, examines the trials and tribulations of a working-class family in the war-era, northern city. It boasts an admirable plot line that focuses on three generations of women: grandmother Nellie, mother Eileen and daughter Mel. Nellie decides to leave Liverpool with her three grandsons, looking for rural pastures, in order to save them from the bombings to come. Eileen stays behind to accompany her daughter, who has a scholarship at one of the city’s top private schools.
The emphasis is clearly on the considerable hardship women endured in the years of the Second World War, when many with families were left to take over mens’ jobs along with keeping households together under strict ration budgets. The book therefore seeks to pay tribute to the courage and self-sacrifice shown by many.
The story is a well-trodden one, where evil dies and heroism triumphs.
Unfortunately, the narrative rapidly becomes tiring. The good characters appear almost saint-like, and the bad ones too wicked to be believable, like a below-par Dickens novel. The beautiful and talented Mel, long-suffering but selfless Nellie, and cartoonishly devilish Elsie and Tom come across as little more than cardboard cut-outs. The story is a well-trodden one, where evil dies and heroism triumphs. While the prose style is clear and direct, the characters lack subtlety and depth, and little is left to the reader’s imagination.
Something I’ve always found irksome about life in the UK is the ongoing obsession with World War II. Despite the murder, destruction and deprivation that the conflict caused on a colossal scale, many see it as some sort of golden age, an era that produced citizens abounding in goodness and virtue and one which turned an entire nation against the evils of Nazism. As a result war-themed literature, from Carrie’s War to The Postmistress, can often be tedious to read, and unfortunately Hamilton’s latest does not buck the trend.
Britain’s wartime virtues, both real and imagined, have been promoted too much by its writers.
It would be great if novels about the era dealt more with the discrimination faced by Jewish refugees in Britain or the fascist sympathisers working at the highest levels of the British establishment – particularly within the royal family. Britain’s wartime virtues, both real and imagined, have been promoted too much by its writers. I would find it more interesting now to read about her vices.
That Liverpool Girl is published by Pan Macmillon and is available for £6.99
Image courtesy of Ruth Hamilton