I almost did one of those embarrasing whoops of joy last week when I spotted this book at the library near work. It’s been on my radar for a couple of years now ever since seeing an interview with Joan Bakewell and thinking how fascinating she was. For those who like me don’t know of Bakewell, she is an English journalist and tv presenter, well known in the 1960s and beyond – beautiful, intelligent and not afraid to report on controversial topics – sounds like the perfect heroine for a story doesn’t it?
Unfortunately I think this might be one of those times when the author appeals more than the actual story.
All The Nice Girls is set in 1942 in a fictional English town near Liverpool. It is the story of a girls school who take part in the community initiative to “adopt” a naval warship, meet some of the crew and correspond with them while they are at sea. This was based on a factual scheme that Bakewell herself took part in when she was at school. 1942 wasn’t a good year for the Allies and as well as boosting morale, the scheme was designed primarity to raise funds for the war effort (the communities and schools were assigned a particular ship dependant on the money they had saved and raised).
Inevitably bonds are formed and secret liaisons arranged. In the present day, 60 year old Millie contemplates the relationship she has with her daughter whilst exploring old papers left behind by her recently deceased mother.
The strengths of the book for me were the character of Cynthia Maitland, the unstereotypical headmistress of the school and the picture Joan Bakewell paints of wartime Britain. Little points she makes such as none of the girls wanting to learn German, to the married women going back to their single lifestyles with the men away – helped to set the scene well. In fact, the whole issue of women’s roles during the war is subtly addressed throughout the book.
The weakness for me was the current day story – it was vague and I didn’t feel anything for the characters at all. It was obvious there would be a link between the two time periods but I was only mildly curious as to what that was.
It was an easy read, some parts were nicely done but for me a bit light. Opinion on the book seems to be split, I have read some glowing reviews and some that are more lukewarm.
So what next? I haven’t finished with Joan Bakewell yet – definitely interested to read her autobiography The Centre of the Bed. She has a new novel She’s Leaving Home due out soon, set in 1950’s and 1960’s London – again a time period I’m interested in so I might give this a try.
2009, 352 pages