Next to Love by Ellen Feldman

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Next to Love by Ellen Feldman

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Katie Pullen
Reviewed by Katie Pullen
Summary: Spanning the 1940s through to the 1960s this is the story of Babe, Grace and Millie, three American women whose lives are forever affected by the Second World War when their husbands are sent off to fight. This is an ambitious novel charting the lives of not only the three women, but their families and the issues facing America at the time that unfortunately lacks the depth I had been expecting.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: October 2011
Publisher: Picador
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0330544504

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Babe, Grace and Millie are three American girls who have grown up together. Now young women each marry their sweetheart just as America becomes involved in the Second World War. But on a fateful day in 1944, sixteen telegrams arrive from the War Department bringing death to the locals, including Grace and Millie whose husbands have both been killed. Babe seems to be the lucky one as her husband, Claude, returns from the War, but in truth he will never be the same man again.

What follows is two decades in which Babe, Grace and Millie try to put their lives back together after the War. For Grace and Millie this involves bringing up children without fathers, remarrying and trying to make sense of their lives, while for Babe life means accepting Claude for the man he has become, and trying to make her marriage work. As the women get older and struggle through life, the story also turns to their children and how they cope with an America full of social unrest. As these women and their families face great adversity, will any of them find the happiness they deserve?

I was expecting great things from this fourth novel from Ellen Feldman, particularly as she has been previously shortlisted for the Orange Prize. At first I was not disappointed as the story of Babe, Grace and Millie starts off well, with Feldman creating the time and place inhabited by these women easily and I was at first completely drawn in and found myself itching to pick up the book when I should have been doing other things. She creates a sense of drama, reality and sadness from the start when the telegrams arrive affecting so many families in the town.

The character of Babe stands out from the beginning as she is the most interesting of the three women and at first has the most engaging story. However, I soon lost my sense of who Babe was once Grace and Millie were properly introduced as all three women seem remarkably similar and frustratingly I found myself forgetting who had been married to whom and which child belonged to which mother.

I had also expected to feel a sense of great friendship between these three women, but found this lacking as the three, although clearly friends, lead very separate lives and there aren't many episodes when all three are together, sharing their ups and downs which I had expected from a novel about friendship. As Feldman ticks off the years by splitting the story into books, each woman has her own chapter within each book, which in itself is a great way of giving us different perspectives, but made me feel these women were very much isolated from each other, apart from the passages where the same episode is written about from each woman's perspective. I wish there had been more time for these women to really talk to each other as I think this would have given the novel more depth and made the story of friendship truly come alive.

I was also disappointed by the lack of movement forward for all three women as they seem to stagnate once the War is over, even though their lives change in many respects, so much so that I didn't even notice they were getting older. There is an underlying sense that none of these women can really break out of the mould of womanhood they have grown up with, that they are powerless in many respects, which although probably a clear reflection of the time period in America I found frustrating. As a result I soon became bored with the story of these women's lives as it just doesn't seem to go anywhere and although I stuck with it, the interest that Feldman sparked in me at the beginning soon waned.

Don't get me wrong there are some great passages in this book, and Feldman's writing is accessible, poignant and polished. She also sensitively tackles some contemporary issues as we follow these three women, including racism, sexism and anti-Semitism, as well as the brutal effects of a War on a generation of women as well as their families. However, although I can appreciate the many aspects to this novel and am sure many people will enjoy it, for me Feldman is perhaps just a little overambitious with the number of characters and themes, resulting in a narrative that at times is confusing and lacking in the rich depth I had expected.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further Reading Suggestion: If you like the sound of this book, you may also enjoy Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman.

Buy Next to Love by Ellen Feldman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Next to Love by Ellen Feldman at

Buy Next to Love by Ellen Feldman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Next to Love by Ellen Feldman at


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