Dual narratives currently appear to be popular in historical fiction. The recent novel, The Gown, uses this structure. These books offer the perspective of the present while exploring an earlier time and demonstrating that, whatever the period, characters look for meaning, relationships and safety. In this enjoyable novel by Julia Kelly, the reader gets to know Cara in the present and Louise during WWII. The device that links them is the diary that Cara, an antiques expert, finds when she is evaluating the objects in the home of a character with a link to Louise.
When the novel opens, Louise is living with her parents and is a dutiful daughter who dreams of one day moving to California with its sunshine and greater educational opportunities. However, her present is WWII Cornwall where she meets and falls for Paul. The evolution of their relationship is a key part of the novel.
The war provides Louise with the opportunity to enlist and leave her small community. She becomes an “ack-ack girl.” According to the website The Female Soldier, ack-ack girls “were members of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) that helped operate Anti-Aircraft Guns in the defense of Britain from German bombing raids during World War 2.” Louise becomes an integral member of an integrated male/female unit. She writes extensively to Paul while in the service. Will they have a happily ever after? You will need to read the novel to find out.
Cara, following a recent divorce, is giving most of her attention to her job until she meets a neighbor. Their relationship evolves. Will they have their happy ever after?
Throughout the book, Cara discovers Louise through her diaries, just as the reader does. These entries form an integral part of the narrative.
There are other stories as well, especially that of Cara’s grandmother who does not want to talk about her wartime life and who appears to be harboring a secret. Cara wants to know all that she can while her grandmother is alive to tell her. Will she find out?
Each of these narrative threads is handled well by the author and I very much enjoyed reading this novel. I experienced more of what it was like to live in London during wartime and connected with the characters and their stories. My only caveat would be that some of the physical romance feels a bit formulaic while it is the relationships that are more interesting.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this e-galley in exchange for an honest review. I recommend Light Over London to those who enjoy historical novels set during the second world war.
“Kelly weaves an intricate, tender, and convincing tale of war and romance with skill and suspense.” (–Publishers Weekly)
“Kelly deftly balances intrigue with mystery and historical detail in her latest novel… A charming imagining of the historical gunner girls.” (–Kirkus Reviews)
“Kelly has crafted two convincing, conflicted heroines in Cara and Louise, and the resolution of Louise’s romance is satisfyingly empowering. Hand this to fans of Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach (2017) and other tales of the vital roles played by women in wartime.” (–Booklist)