The reading group generally agreed that this is a good story well written but opinion was divided on how engaging it is.
The novel begins in 1947 but works its way back to 1944 and then 1941 so that we come to understand why the characters are the way they are. Kay, one of the central characters, describes how she enjoys going to the cinema and watching a film which is halfway through and that is what Waters has done with this novel. We have to wait until the film starts again to fully understand what is happening. Not everyone liked this structure feeling that the 1947 section lacked tension. Another reader commented that she could feel the planning of the novel, it was too overt and engineered.
Everyone however felt that the period details were excellent, that it was a great evocation of the time. The dialogue was fantastic and most of the characters very real. Helen’s irrational jealousy was particularly well portrayed and believable.
The damage done by the war to London and its people was palpable. Descriptions of the ash which covered everything after a bomb blast or what it was like emerging from an air raid shelter to inspect the remains of your home were very moving. There is also humour, notably the injured man who comes to the marriage bureau with very clear ideas of how perfect a woman he is after.
Waters captures very well the ordinariness of the dislike felt for the routine of war, how it grinds people down. She focuses in on her damaged characters, all of whom have been troubled by the war, then pans out to give us an understanding of the wider world at the time and general suffering. For this reason it was felt that this is a book that everyone who has not experienced war should read.