After the Bombing by Clare Morrall

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After the Bombing by Clare Morrall

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Louise Jones
Reviewed by Louise Jones
Summary: The bombing of Exeter casts a long shadow on the life of Alma Braithwaite, who struggles to come to terms with her loss by clinging onto the remnants of her past.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: March 2014
Publisher: Sceptre
ISBN: 9781444736427

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On 28th March 1942, the city of Lubeck was attacked by RAF bombers. The medieval buildings were reduced to rubble and hundreds of innocent people lost their lives. In retaliation, Hitler decided to bomb the most beautiful and culturally rich cities of England, using Baedeker’s tourist guide as a reference. The cities he chose were Exeter, Bath, Norwich, York and Canterbury. After the Bombing follows the story of an Exeter schoolgirl and her friends in the aftermath of the attack.

The story centres on Alma Braithwaite, a lower-fifth pupil at Goldwyn’s school for girls. The narrative switches between two time periods: the aftermath of the bombing in 1942 and Alma’s adult life, working as a music teacher at Goldwyn’s in 1963. As the story alternates between the older and younger Alma, we come to see how the traumatic events of her youth have moulded her life. The older Alma is a broken, fragile individual, for whom the school represents stability and constancy. When a new head teacher arrives and wishes to change the status quo, Alma immediately feels threatened, as if her world is crumbing around her. She resents the new head and will do everything in her power to resist her reforms.

The characters in the book are well-drawn, multi-dimensional and fascinating. Morrall delves into the psychology of each individual, slowly revealing their personal histories, peeling back layers and helping the reader to understand why they act the way they do. The fact that the characters are neither warm nor likeable adds to the richness of the story; a story about shattered lives, living in the past and lost opportunities. The lack of men after the war meant that many women never married or had children, whilst even the most unlikely of men became magnets for female attention.

After the Bombing is a rewarding read. It starts off slowly and the gentle pace lulls the reader deceptively. But don’t get too comfortable; there are plenty of twists, revelations and confrontations to punctuate the calm and as a result, I found it a real page-turner.

Those interested in the history of the Second World War will enjoy Our Longest Days: A People's History of the Second World War by Sandra Koa Wing

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