The Soldier’s Wife by Pamela Hart

In brief: When new husband Jimmy goes to fight in World War I, Ruby is left alone in the big city to find a job – and her feet. Can she do it in the middle of war?

The good: Ruby’s a strong character and the story is entertaining.

The not-so-good: I felt that Ruby gave in a little towards the end (but that probably makes her a truer character to the time period)

Why I chose it: Thanks to the kind folk at Hachette Australia and The Reading Room, who know I love my Aussie historical fiction.

Year: 2015

Pages: 356 (ARC)

Publisher: Hachette

Setting: Sydney and New South Wales, Australia

My rating: 8.5 out of 10

After the moving tributes of ANZAC Day this year, one hundred years after the Gallipoli campaign, I was in the mood to read something set in the time period that celebrated the ANZAC spirit. I couldn’t have picked a better book than The Soldier’s Wife. The book not only chronicles what it was like for those left on the home front, it also goes into detail of the horrors of war and how they affect families and loved one. Plus, it celebrates some girl power in Ruby, a young woman who finds her strength and determination when she is left alone in Sydney after her very new husband departs for the front. Ruby is a country girl from Bourke and the city is new to her – the smells, constant movement and the never-ending buildings. After Jimmy leaves on a troop ship, she organises a place to board and sets off looking for a job.

Ruby finds a place as a bookkeeper as a timber yard, thanks to her experience in her family’s drapers. A timber yard is not the usual place for women to work in 1915 and Ruby finds things uncomfortable at first amongst the men. However, she finds strengths in not only being able to do the work well, but helping new friend Maree and being a voice of calm and reasoning when tragedy strikes her boss’ family. Ruby grows into a strong, admirable woman before the reader’s eyes, but is it enough to sustain her when she gets her own bad news?

It’s at this point that the narrative changes from being about Ruby, relatively free, to being someone’s wife. Having only a couple of weeks of marriage to compare to, life is not easy being half of a pair, especially when the physical and mental scars of war are so fresh. Will Ruby give up her freedom to be a dutiful wife, or does her new life mean more to her?

It was easy to like Ruby and I enjoyed seeing her personal growth from wide eyed country kid to a force to be reckoned with (yet retaining her femininity). Pamela Hart stops Ruby from being the perfect woman in that she slips up sometimes with some razor-sharp verbal barbs. I thought that this made Ruby more realistic and well…conflict does make for an exciting story. I really didn’t know which way Ruby was going to turn towards the end of the book as events cumulate in a race against time. I liked not knowing what would happen – would the ending be happy or sad? Would Ruby end up together with Jimmy (or someone else) or alone? It made the story more exciting and delayed my bedtime somewhat!

Pamela Hart’s research for The Soldier’s Wife was both detailed and interesting. I enjoyed reading about Lassetter’s, a wonderful shopping emporium in Sydney and how the timber was transported. And her words? Well, the pages just flew by. This is a book that you won’t want to tear yourself away from – it contains a myriad of feelings and events that makes for compulsive reading.

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