Monday, December 12, 2011

Review: The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy

Sometimes, a book is so beautifully written that you love the writing just as much as you love the story. That was the case with Margaret Leroy's unforgettable novel, The Soldier's Wife.

Set in the small island of Guernsey just after the German occupation, this novel shares the journey of Vivienne de la Mare, mother of two girls, and wife to a husband fighting in the British army. Life changes for everyone on the island with the arrival of the Germans, but Vivienne has to put up with a group of German officers living right next door. It's not a situation she ever would have wanted, but it's made worse when she finds herself inexplicably attracted to one of the officers named Gunther.

In the midst of shortages and restrictions, Vivienne tries to keep her household going. Her fourteen-year-old daughter, Blanche, is blossoming into a woman and her five-year-old daughter, Millie, is precocious and adventurous. Also in Vivienne's care is her mother-in-law who, unfortunately, is in the beginning stages of Alzheimers.

Against her better judgment, Vivenne starts an affair with Gunther. The two have their own island within the confines of Vivienne's bedroom. Here, the war does not touch them. This is their sanctuary. And finally, Vivienne finds the love she never had.

But Gunther is the enemy, and fraternizing with said enemy is not to be tolerated. Vivenne lives in fear that her secret will be unearthed, but it's made all the more so when she begins to clandestinely help one of the slave laborers on the island. His fate will be inextricably tied with the fate of Vivenne and Gunther's relationship.

Most intriguing about this novel is how we view our enemy. During World War II, propaganda made sure that our enemies were demonized, and made to look less than human. And in some cases, they were less than human - the Holocaust and the atrocities committed by the Japanese are testament to this. But there were good people on both sides trying their best to survive.

Is there ever a point when a relationship with the enemy is permissible? That is the question that The Soldier's Wife seeks to answer. 

Leroy's beautiful descriptions of Guernsey and her lilting, poetic language make this a pleasure to read. But it is Leroy's portrayal of the human struggle to shift and bend with the changing times of war that make it a must-read.


Sean MacKenzie said...

I actually have ancestors who immigrated from the Guernsey Islands. What a plus!

Can't wait to read this! Maybe after "The Help"?

Valerie said...

This is definitely a book I will read. And Melissa-what a beautifully written review of it!

Melissa Marsh said...

Sean - Oh, how neat that you have relatives from Guernsey. You'll definitely get a great feeling for this island. It's obvious that the author just loves it.

Valerie - Thanks! And yes, I think you'll enjoy it. :-)

Portugal said...

I loved this book from the very first sentence to the very last sentence. As a matter of fact, after I finished reading it, I sat with it resting on my lap, not wanting to let go of it. Not wanting to step out of Vivienne's life.

This is the story of Vivienne de la Mare. She lives on a lovely idyllic island of Guernsey. Unfortunately, the lovely, butterfly filled paradise, is being occupied by the German's during World War II. When the German's occupy the house next door, Vivienne is intrigued by one of the soldiers.