All Virago/All August continues with another Mary Hocking novel – mine isn’t a Virago copy although I do really like the Abacus editions. I read Good Daughters, the first book in this family trilogy at the beginning of August and loved it. It is really hard to review the novels of this Hocking trilogy because I know a lot of people are reading them at the moment or intending to, and I don’t want to spoil them for people, and I don’t know how interesting a blog post about a second instalment of a series is, when you haven’t read the first one. Oh well here goes.
At the opening of this second book in Mary Hocking’s Fairley family trilogy, it is 1939, and Alice, the middle daughter has newly joined the Wrens. She has previously suffered a breakdown following the events at the conclusion of Good Daughters, but is now excited to be going out into the world. Her elder sister, married to Guy, is now the mother to two young children, while Claire is coming to the end of her school days. The outbreak of war gives Stanley Fairley an excuse to re-tell the stories of his own service during the Great War – and turn his attention to more practical matters like the clearing of the loft, and helping out his increasingly hopeless neighbour Mrs Vaseyelin. Guy has also joined up – and is already abroad, while the sister’s cousin, Ben initially takes his time to join up – but does so, irritated at the interruption to his career at the bar.
“There was not much to laugh about during the next two days. Enormous seas built up. Even the crew was sick. Worse than this, submarines had wreaked havoc on a previous convoy and soon the ships were steaming through a sea laden with wreckage that at times it seemed they were making their way amid the ruins of a sunken city. It was only too easy to hear the cries of drowned men in the howling wind. Ben had not tasted fear until now. In an emergency, the crew would be at their posts. The men on draft were cargo.”
Alice soon finds herself in Egypt, where she embarks on her first romance, and is both impressed and surprised by the sophisticated worldliness of her fellow Wrens – who indulge in casual love affairs with ease. Back in London Angus Drummond is involved with some kind of secret war work – and begins a relationship with Irene one of Alice’s friends. Daphne Drummond – of whose family relationships Alice still has very uneasy feelings – has a brief fling with Ben before he too goes abroad, with the absence of Alice, Daphne and Louise are thrown together. Louise is lonely, a young woman with two small children, she is not the type to throw herself into good works, and there are plenty of temptations for an attractive young woman who hasn’t seen her husband in a long time. Louise’s behaviour makes her difficult to sympathise with – although she isn’t totally reprehensible, she is a silly weak girl, and the Fairley sister I like the least, I will be interested to see if she redeems herself further in the third novel.
One of my favourite characters from Good Daughters Jacov Vaseyelin shows up too, even running into Alice in Egypt as part of a touring company – his is a calm, philosophical attitude to the tragedies that the war has brought to his and his friends’ doors.
Mary Hocking gives her readers a faithful and realistic portrayal of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary times. Fear and confusion, loneliness and unexpected deaths, Hocking doesn’t just show us the frustrations of rationing, the jolly camaraderie of shelter life. Instead we have the horror of a Japanese prisoner of war camp, the feeling of homelessness that follows a bombing, the desolation of a railway siding during the blackout – the glamour of a Wrens uniform and the strangeness of new found freedom. Born in 1921, Mary Hocking herself would have lived through these times as a young woman and in fact she served in the meteorology branch of Fleet Air Arm during the war.
These are characters I have come to really like, some of them are flawed, but I am certainly looking forward to finding out what happens to them all next.