Author: Margaret LeRoy
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Hyperion Voice, 2011
Source: Received for review from publisher
The Soldier's Wife takes place on the little island of Guernsey, an island tensely awaiting the arrival of Germans at the beginning of World War II. Vivienne de la Mare is caught up in the fervor to stand strong against the enemy, to resist the Germans taking over unoccupied houses and fraternizing with the island girls. However, lines blur as she interacts with the soldiers - and others the war has brought to Guernsey - and Vivienne must decide what she really values.
This book was absolutely lovely, from start to finish. The style is very introspective and reflective, written in the first person present tense and following all of Vivienne's confused thoughts and impressions of the events around her. In a way the style reminded me of Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys, with the story taking snapshot moments to tell a story that extends over several years.
Even when describing scenes of horrible carnage, a grace pervades over the scene. While there are no photographs of Guernsey, the image in my head is one of beauty - a beauty enhanced by LeRoy's words. The story abounds with descriptions of lovely flowers and elegant scenes. However, the real beauty was in the way LeRoy captured emotions in vivid metaphors that I never would have imagined but that fit the moment perfectly.
"After it happened, I would panic sometimes when I was with her, afraid of the gaps in our
conversations, as though they were cliffs you could fall from."
"...the music perfumed with memories of her."
"People will often let themselves be guided by such things, making a weighty decision
because some small hand beckons."
"And with the realization comes a little apprehension, misting over the gleaming surface
of my mood, like breath that blurs a mirror."
I think part of the charm was also that Vivienne herself was such a likable character for me. Uncertain and awkward at times, she was nevertheless a generous and thoughtful person, a person I think I would have been friends with. She experiences a great deal of growth in the story, starting as a woman who tries to be kind to others and satisfy herself with her loveless marriage, but growing into someone who takes risks, putting herself in danger both for love and to help others and occasionally making the harder choice in order to feel at peace with herself.
The one complaint I have with this story is the love affair itself. At the beginning, it was compelling and charged with tension, but once it actually began, it seemed somewhat perfunctory, taking a backseat to all the other issues in Vivienne's life. It seemed to be important more for the issues it raised than for its own merit. Once the affair was ended, the passion seemed to come back, as Vivienne experienced the pain of loss and regret, and then I could feel the power it had over her, but while it was actually going on, it seemed somehow less important.
Nevertheless, this was a "book hugger," meaning that once I finished the story I had to hold it for a minute and soak it all in. I didn't want it to be over, and I still felt wrapped up in the world LeRoy had created. This is a rare experience for me with a book, and obviously a valued one. I don't think this book will enchant everyone, as it does move at a slow pace and deals more with thought and character development than action. However, if you like being drawn into a character's inner thoughts and growing with her, this book will enchant you just as it enchanted me. And I think the writing will enchant anyone.
Warnings for the sensitive reader: A not-so-described love affair, one F-bomb, and a couple of violent scenes