Tale of an intense wartime friendship and its aftermath is a gripping read

2010-04-07 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Days of Grace

Catherine Hall

Portobello

ONE of my favourite periods for ­fiction is that of World War 2 and especially depictions of the lives of those women left behind — who ­experienced the bombings, rationing, sent their children away to live with strangers in the country and husbands to war, and generally lived each moment as if it might have been be their last. The land girls, factory workers, Wrens and general zeitgeist of the time charm me. England in the later forties is steeped in a romance, which goes far beyond love stories. So when I began Days of Grace, that was what I was expecting. I got a whole lot more and then some.

The book tells the story of Nora, a young evacuee who must leave her beloved “Ma” in London to go and live in the country. Lining up to find a new home, after a train ride she will never forget, she is chosen by Grace, the daughter of a country ­village rector.

Nora quickly settles down in the comparatively luxurious home, and begins to warm to the daring and ­engaging Grace and begins to relax in the presence of her somewhat ­distant parents. The two are soon firm friends.

In alternate chapters, we are ­introduced to an ailing Nora in the final months of her life. And through the two Noras so juxtaposed, we thus begin to unravel something of both her heart-wrenching life story and her now injured psyche.

I can’t say much more without ­giving everything away, but it is a ­Bildungsroman that explores levels of love between women in different relationships and roles, including those of mother-daughter, friendship and love, the young and old, the healthy and the dying, the needy and the needed, the guest and hostess.

The night I finished it, I had read until very late because I had to know how it would end. When I finished the last page, I made myself stop and consciously decide. I thought it could go two ways. I could either give in to my enormous emotions and finish the tissues next to my bed, going to work puffy-eyed next morning, or I could try to push it all out of my mind immediately and go to sleep and be okay in the morning. I chose the ­latter out of necessity, but that cry is still lurking deep inside me and I think I will reread the last chapter this weekend and succumb, for I need closure for Nora, whom I came to know so well, and Grace, whom I have thought of often since I ­finished the book. That’s how good it is.

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