Voice - Historical Fiction/WWII
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!