In brief: When Margaret arrives in Australia after World War I to join her husband, she never dreamed that he wouldn’t be there to greet her. But as the truth is revealed, she realises she needs to makle a home for herself in this foreign land.
The good: So nice to see Tom (from The Soldier’s Wife) again and to be swept up in this wonderful story.
The not-so-good: I ripped through this story in just a few days.
Why I chose it: Loved The Soldier’s Wife, and since I heard about Pamela’s book late last year, I’ve been stalking the Hachette website (thanks for granting my wish)!
Setting: Sydney, Australia
My rating: 9.5 out of 10
Pamela Hart is an author whose writing I just ‘click’ with. I can pick up her novels anywhere, anytime and be whisked away to an Australia long gone. Her historical fiction pulses with the life of early twentieth century Australia, bringing not only the characters to life but giving noise to the streets and landscape. I loved The Soldier’s Wife and I staked my claim on The War Bride late last year when I first heard about it. It doesn’t disappoint, bringing post WWI Sydney alive with some lesser known history in Margaret, the protagonist.
Margaret is English and married Frank during the war in a whirlwind romance centred around Reading train station. Frank, an Aussie, was injured and sent home to Australia. Now after the war and the Spanish flu, Margaret is ready to leave on a ship for war brides to be reunited with their partners. Margaret can’t wait to start her new life, but when the ship docks, Frank isn’t there. The kind army sergeant (who just happens to be Tom McBride, who readers of The Soldier’s Wife will be familiar with) makes enquiries for her, but it isn’t good. Frank has upped sticks and moved to be with his wife. The wife that isn’t Margaret.
Naturally, Margaret is devastated. But she’s not giving in – she’ll stay in Australia and make her own life. (After all, there’s very little left for her in England). Thanks to Tom, she finds a lovely place to stay and new friends in Jane and Burnsie. She finds a job she enjoys and finally, a new romance with Tom. But then Margaret finds out that Frank didn’t intentionally abandon her and life gets incredibly complicated. Does she lose all the ground she’s made in Australia to return to being Frank’s wife? Or does she face the wrath of society?
Even though it’s historical fiction, The War Bride contains a lot of modern thoughts and feelings, particularly in relation to how women were treated. Margaret and Tom have become a couple, which flies in the face of convention as Margaret is pretending to be a widow. How she can possibly think of another man while she’s dressed in black is beyond society’s wildest dreams. But as it’s preferable to be a widow rather than announce desertion, what choice does Margaret have? She pushes the boundaries of convention as best she can but it’s only a matter of time before society pushes back. For example, she is wracked with guilt after having sex with Tom because not only are they not married, Margaret is married to the absent Frank. Perhaps this is one of the reasons she decides to divorce Frank – to free herself of some of the guilt and allow herself happiness (not something that 1920s Sydney was all that keen on…the Bright Young Things hadn’t quite made it Down Under yet). Margaret is an early bastion of rights for women – jobs, love and the ability to change one’s destiny. Yet she’s not gung-ho, but has doubts and guilt. This only made me like her all the more.
I was so pleased to see Tom back in this book, as he’s so sweet and he deserved better after being unlucky in love in The Soldier’s Wife. Compared to Frank, Tom was even more heroic. Frank just didn’t seem suited to Margaret in my opinion. Perhaps it was the war that brought them together or perhaps it was because we only really got to know Margaret’s character after she was forced to make a new life but…Frank was weak. The reality of him didn’t meet Margaret’s memories and he seemed mixed up, even pathetic at times. I’d consider him to be very lucky to have had Margaret in his life!
The book also reflects on other topics of the time, such as shell shock and returning to home life after the war (there’s a scene where none of the men can stomach the smell of mustard). There’s some mention of what the ramifications are for gay men and how much of a role religion played in day to day lives. I could discuss this book for pages, but what I’d really like you to do is read The War Bride. It’s a captivating story that covers so much ground of Aussie life in the 1920s.