Title: The Safest Place in London
Author: Maggie Joel
Rating: 3/5 stars
Release date: September 1st 2016
In a frozen January evening in 1944, Nancy Levin, and her three-year-old daughter, Emily, flee their impoverished East London home as an air raid siren sounds. Not far away, 39- year-old Diana Meadows and her own child, three-year-old Abigail, are lost in the black-out as the air raid begins. Finding their way in the jostling crowd to the mouth of the shelter they hurry to the safety of the underground tube station. Mrs Meadows, who has so far sat out the war in the safety of London’s outer suburbs, is terrified – as much by the prospect of sheltering in an Eastend tube station as of experiencing a bombing raid first hand.
Far away Diana’s husband, Gerald Meadows finds himself in a tank regiment in North Africa while Nancy’s husband, Joe Levin has narrowly survived a torpedo in the Atlantic and is about to re-join his ship. Both men have their own wars to fight but take comfort in the knowledge that their wives and children, at least, remain safe.
But in wartime, ordinary people can find themselves taking extreme action – risking everything to secure their own and their family’s survival, even at the expense of others.
I love reading about 1900s London. I’ve come across several books with similar time periods, but never have I ever come across one that’s this.. captivating and tragic. There are a few flaws in the book, but I still find it to be extremely expressive.
One thing I’m not particularly fond of is the pacing of this book. I often find it really hard to get used to the flow of a Historical Fiction, but this one was unbearable… The plot is thick with suspense and mystery, but I can’t quite grasp what I think the author is trying to convey, much less enjoy it.
The multiple perspectives, however, makes a good bridge that connects the story together. We get different views of the war from different parts of the world and it makes the story more gripping. It also takes a twist halfway through the book which, truth be told, actually caught me by surprise. It’s very smartly done, too.
So that’s when the pacing picked up. I basically devoured the second half of the book in one sitting and the ending left me completely out of breath, as if I were running a marathon. When I finished the book I took a good minute or two to ponder on the thought of having to go through leaps and bounds just to save your loved ones. The story really did speak to me. Even though things were a bit wonky at the beginning, the ending and plot twist definitely made up for it.
Overall, a very unique take on 1940s London. The characters in the story taught me so much. Joel’s personas are unlike anything I’ve ever read about. They’re honest, wistful, and just like everybody else, they yearn to just live.
Many thanks to Allen&Unwin for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!