Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy

The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy
Copyright 2011
Voice - Historical Fiction/WWII
403 pages

The Soldier's Wife is yet another story that's been sitting in my review backlog pile for a while, but I remember it well. Vivienne de la Mare lives on the isle of Guernsey. Her husband is a soldier and she is not happily married. At home, she cares for her ailing mother-in-law and her two daughters.

Vivienne's eldest daughter wants to evacuate when it becomes obvious that the island will be invaded, but Vivienne is worried about the safety of the small boat leaving the island and opts to stay. When the island is occupied, it is shocking but she does her best to take care of her family. She is frightened when Nazi soldiers move into the house next door and tries to avoid them. But, she keeps encountering a soldier named Gunther and eventually they begin a passionate affair.

As food grows scarce, Vivienne finds that her relationship with a German can be helpful to her family. But, when she views the horrible treatment of imprisoned islanders, she takes a dangerous risk. How far is Vivienne willing to go to help a stranger? Are her choices worth the risks to her family? Is Vivienne in love with Gunther or simply a very selfish woman?

What I liked about The Soldier's Wife:

Although I tend to dislike "women's fiction" and I think The Soldier's Wife falls into that category, I liked getting into Vivienne's head when it came to the care of her family, pondering survival with her and thinking about what I might do in her place. How far would I go? What would I be willing to risk?

What I disliked about The Soldier's Wife:

Vivienne is not a character I liked or could relate to, although I warmed up to her a little when she began to risk her own life to help someone in desperate need.

I love other booklovers:

Jill of Rhapsody in Books was looking for someone to chat with about The Soldier's Wife during the time that I was eyeing it and her search for someone to chat with was actually the push I needed to read the book. I won't repeat our conversation but it was really illuminating hearing her thoughts and our little chat helped both of us to get a better grip on how we felt about the book. One thing that really jumped out at us was the lack of communication between Vivienne and Gunther. They were lovers and (trying to avoid a spoiler, here) at one point he did something very crucial that probably saved both her life and that of her family. And, yet she still didn't trust him.

The vagueness of their interaction bothered me. I mentioned to Jill that I've often felt like that's a feature of women's fiction that seems common and frequently irritates me -- characters who are unable to communicate or who hold things back when there's not a genuine reason for them to be distrustful. And, as WWII books go? Not a favorite. I tend to like grittier books with a broader perspective like Under an English Heaven by Robert Radcliffe or those that make me really feel the sense of deprivation, like The Madonnas of Leningrad.

And, yet, when I finished the book, I thought The Soldier's Wife was worth about a 4/5 rating. It's very good; I did think the book portrayed a decent sense of place and the dilemmas were realistic. I like a book that makes me question myself. What would I do in Vivienne's shoes? Well, I wouldn't sleep with the Nazi next door, no matter how much I disliked my absentee husband. But, how far would I go to help my fellow islanders? If I did find myself entangled with the enemy and the enemy became my most trusted friend, how much would I be willing to reveal about myself?

The bottom line:

While not an all-time favorite WWII novel and not one I'll save for a reread, I enjoyed The Soldier's Wife particularly for the way it made me set myself in the heroine's shoes and ponder how I would react in her situation. I did not like the heroine. I think she could have used a good slap in the face. But, I did like the dilemmas and the setting. In general, I think the book was very good and I recommend it but the scope of the book is more limited than I'd hoped. And, yet, the limited scope was also necessary. Vivienne and her family were isolated in many ways and the focus was on taking care of her family.

How about those Channel Islands?

I've wanted to visit the Channel Islands for at least a decade. I don't recall which WWII book introduced me to the islands, but I knew of their existence and the strategic importance of their location long before the Potato Peel book brought them to the attention of so many readers. Incidentally, I really need to get to that Potato Peel book (can't remember the full title and I'm too tired to look it up at the moment). Bellezza sent me a copy and I've been saving it. I think it's about time to quit saving it and pull it off the shelf.

My copy of The Soldier's Wife was sent to me by my friend Paula, who sent me a whopper of a pile, not long ago. Thanks, again, PJ!

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  1. This book sounds interesting enough to see if the library has a copy...

  2. Kelly,

    I think it's worth checking out. :)

  3. Awesome review as always my friend.

  4. I do think a lot of people have trouble communicating. Men keep their feelings to themselves and women expect men to read their minds. This book sounds interesting to me.

  5. This is in my TBR stack and keeps getting pushed aside for other things! I do need to get it read though. Thanks for the honest review.
    2 Kids and Tired Books

  6. I love this line:

    "Well, I wouldn't sleep with the Nazi next door, no matter how much I disliked my absentee husband."

    And of course I love the reference to "that Potato Peel book."

    It was so fun doing the impromptu readalong with you! I don't know where my review is - it should be coming up in a couple of weeks (I'm in my Schedule-Out-Way-In-Advance Mode). But I saved our comments on it, in case someone wants to see just how badly we wanted to slap some of the characters! :--)

  7. You really do need to read Guernsey! Such a fabulous book.

    I have this book but here the title is The Collaborator.

  8. I've been dying to get my hands on this one. I love having a great discussion about a book with someone. I'm glad you had that opportunity.

  9. Paula,

    Thank you, m'dear!


    Oh, yes, definitely. Jill and I did think there were some oddities to Vivienne's communication, though -- not only with Gunther but with another character at the end of the book. There didn't seem to be any reason for her to hide a certain bit of information. But, I would even go so far as to say most people have issues with communication.


    I probably would have continued to put off reading it for a while, too, if not for Jill's plea for someone to discuss it with her. It just seemed like a great opportunity, so I whipped through the book for the sake of discussion.

  10. Jill,

    Well . . . I wouldn't sleep with anyone, not just an invading Nazi, merely because I had issues with my husband. LOL I'm sure you got that drift, though, right?

    I've got to read "that Potato Peel book". I think we're far enough removed from the hype, now.

    I'll have to watch for your review. I saved the conversation and referred back to it when I was writing mine. It'll be fun to see what you have to say, apart from what we've already chatted about! We'll have to buddy read deliberately, sometime. It was such fun!


    Yes, I really do. I'm glad I've let Potato Peel sit for a time, but it seems like it's been about 2 years since the big buzz. Long enough, I think.

    "The Collaborator" is actually a better title, if you ask me. I'll look forward to your thoughts, when you get to it.


    I got lucky, in this case. The Soldier's Wife was on my wish list and Paula is a very generous friend, so she offered me her copy when she finished. I'm so glad Jill asked for someone with whom to discuss. I'm sure I would have put it off if she hadn't and totally missed out on the joy of getting to bounce thoughts off each other. Such fun. :)

  11. I loved the Potato Peal book (I know, I know, so did everyone else). :)

    I've been seeing very good reviews for Soldier's Wife. I liked that yours explored the characters and showed what you didn't like about them.

  12. What, you can't remember the title The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society? That brief title? :)

    I loved that book, even though I never suspected I'd like something in the form of letters. Still, it was terribly moving, and one of my friends gave me a photograph of the river we live next to with a quote from that book saying, "The nicest people live next to water." I'm sure that applies to her more than me! At any rate, it's a wonderful book. xo

  13. I have always been interested in the occupation of the Channel Islands, so I might be able to forgive some inconsistencies of plot in favor of learnification. This might be one to pick up from the library!

  14. I first learned about the Channel Islands when I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. (See how I managed to give you the full title in a sneaky, round-about way?) You definitely should go ahead and read it now. The hype is in the past, and the book is in your future. Here's a teaser of a meme I wrote about the book, way-way-way back in 2008:


  15. Alyce,

    Yep, so did everyone else! I've read comments favorably comparing The Soldier's Wife to Potato Peel, saying The Soldier's Wife is better. That surprised me. It'll be fun to see how I feel about that, after I've gotten to . . . ugh, getting tired of saying Potato Peel, so how about "reading the peelings". LOL

    Thanks, I'm glad you liked the way I did my review!


    I've always had trouble remembering that title! Usually, I look it up if I mention it, but I was so tired. I had an insomniac weekend and we had an incident in the neighborhood that stressed us all out a bit. I'm sure you didn't want to hear all that.

    If you live by a lake, then the quote must be true. I'll trust the Ladies of the Potato Peel. LOL Yep, still not going to write it out. ;) That was a very thoughtful gift from your friend!


    I think it's worth grabbing for the "learnification" (love the word). I feel like I can visualize it a little better, now, although I used to have a travel book about the Channel Islands and I thought they were hillier and greener than described. Maybe all the photos were taken in the spring to make the islands look more appealing. You get a sense that the environment is harsh and growing things is not easy.


    Thanks for sneaking in the title. I'm still too tired to repeat it! I need rest!! I'm going to dig for my copy, today. We've done so much shifting to put down new flooring, in recent months, that I don't know exactly where every book is, the way I used to, but I know approximately where it's located. I'll look at your teaser, later. :)

  16. I have actually let this one linger for too long as well, and should probably get to it soon. It sounds like it's going to have a main character that's going to drive me nuts, so it might go either way. The plot does sound very interesting though. Great review on this one!

  17. Zibilee,

    She may drive you nuts, but I think you'll like the story and the way it makes you think, "What would I do if I were in Vivienne's shoes?" That is what made the book work for me, at any rate!

  18. I really liked The Soldier's Wife. While I didn't feel the closeness between Vivienne and Gunther, as you said, I still could immerse myself in the atmosphere of Guernsey and WW2. I think I reviewed it maybe 3 months ago--it's somewhere on my site. Nice review, Bookfool.

  19. Tammy,

    I didn't feel as immersed in the atmosphere as you did, but I did enjoy the story and I think the sense of place was very well done -- just not as good as some of my favorites, I guess. :) I'll have to look up your review.

  20. I'm really looking forward to this book, and Jill made me really curious about it. I've seen several reviews where readers were unable to connect with Vivienne. I'm interested in the survival aspect of the story. I can't imagine what it must've been like for the people on the island when the Nazis invaded.

    I've linked to your review on War Through the Generations.

  21. Anna,

    Vivienne is not the easiest character to love, but I think the fact that the book is still so good in spite of her really says something about the author's writing. I can't imagine being invaded and occupied, anywhere. I've mostly read about occupied countries in Europe and what little I've read has been completely horrifying. There are people who give in and collaborate and those who work hard to rid their homes of the enemy, always both. It must be terrifying -- not to mention the deprivation.

    Thanks for the link!

  22. It's the Potato Peel PIE book, Silly. PIE!!!


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