The English Girl by Margaret Leroy

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The English Girl by Margaret Leroy

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Susmita Chatto
Reviewed by Susmita Chatto
Summary: A richly detailed story of love, life and learning for a young woman plunged into the turmoil of the expansion of Nazi power.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 420 Date: August 2014
Publisher: Sphere
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0751551778

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Stella Whittaker moves from a quiet English town to Vienna in 1937 to improve her music skills. Staying with old family friends, the Krauses, she feels less comfortable than she expects as a sense of mysterious menace hangs over the household. Nevertheless, Stella enjoys her new life and the sophistication of the city. More than anything, she enjoys falling in love with Harri, a young Jewish doctor. And despite many warning signs, Stella’s love for him blinds her to the possibility of trouble when it seems inevitable to others.

This a beautiful book which reaches high standards on all levels. Stella is so young and naïve, there is a risk of finding her irritating - especially if, like me, you have been cynical about everything since birth! But Leroy has written Stella in such a way that she is easily understood in spite of her innocence. One of the joys of this book is how Leroy is able to pinpoint the flicker of a feeling and put it under a microscope, revealing to the reader exactly how important those fleeting moments are for our emotional development. Writing in the first person as Stella, Leroy articulates the feelings and senses that can be the hardest to put into words, especially as Stella starts to find out all kinds of things she doesn’t want to know.

Although much of it is a master class in showing and not telling, Leroy has enormous talent for description and scene setting. I think even an impatient reader would enjoy being transported into Vienna with such vivid description. Nor is there too much description; the novel flows so seamlessly, there is never a good point at which to put it down.

All the other characters are beautifully fleshed out and although the sense of menace is well crafted, there are still shocks as you find out what the problems lurking in the Krause household actually are.

Some of my reviews have included the comment that heavy signposting of upcoming trouble can be problematic; there’s a fine balance between creating a sense of menace and having too much set up and not enough pay off. Leroy has a terrific sense of writing completely in the moment, so when a group of thugs interrupts a peaceful day, it is a shock for the reader as much as it is for the characters.

The best of historical fiction illuminates history and this is one such book. Even if you know the details of the Anschluss and events leading up to it, the narrative still creates surprise. Leroy has carefully cast even minor characters so that the reader sees events through the eyes of people with an expansive range of views and watching them all come together further underlines the sense of chaos around the events.

The book is so beautifully written it made me think of music and verse; there is something lyrical in a piece of work that is so well crafted. There are no false notes and the book is satisfying till the very last page.

FURTHER READING SUGGESTION

Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman - an uplifting saga which spans decades and travels miles to tell the stories of two women determined to succeed and find happiness - against all the odds.

Buy The English Girl by Margaret Leroy at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The English Girl by Margaret Leroy at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The English Girl by Margaret Leroy at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The English Girl by Margaret Leroy at Amazon.com.


Booklists.jpg The English Girl by Margaret Leroy is in the Top Ten Historical Fiction Books 2014.

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