Author: Sarah Franklin
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
Early spring 1944.
In a clearing deep within an English forest two lost souls meet for the first time.
Connie Granger has escaped the devastation of her bombed out city home. She has found work in the Women’s Timber Corps, and for her, this remote community must now serve a secret purpose.
Seppe, an Italian prisoner of war, is haunted by his memories. But in the forest camp, he finds a strange kind of freedom.
Their meeting signals new beginnings. In each other they find the means to imagine their own lives anew, and to face that which each fears the most.
But outside their haven, the world is ravaged by war and old certainties are crumbling. Both Connie and Seppe must make a life-defining choice which threatens their fragile existence. How will they make sense of this new world, and find their place within it? What does it mean to be a woman, or a foreign man, in these days of darkness and new light?
A beautiful, gentle and deeply powerful novel about finding solace in the most troubled times, about love, about hope and about renewal after devastation. It asks us to consider what makes a family, what price a woman must pay to live as she chooses, and what we’d fight to the bitter end to protect.
Shelter is an interesting take on a typical WW2 novel, in that it doesn’t focus on life in London or any of England’s big cities during the war. It’s almost entirely based in the countryside, and follows two people brought together by the work that needs doing in the forest: one is Connie, who is seemingly running from something and is starting afresh in training in the Women’s Timber Corps (again, an organisation during the war that isn’t generally given much attention in novels), and the other is Seppe, an Italian prisoner of war.
Both characters are interesting and well-developed, but as the novel went on I found myself going from hating to liking then hating Connie again – she seemed really selfish and unlikable at times, but I’d then swing back to feeling sorry for her/ respecting her again. It’s a mark of Sarah Franklin’s writing that she can make the reader feel such conflicting emotions – much like Connie’s own confusing emotions, I imagine – but still make the reader want to read on regardless. I also liked that Connie isn’t portrayed as the typical ‘feminine’ character and doesn’t follow the normal maternal instincts that is so expected of women – even in today’s society, nevermind back in the 1940’s! Seppe, however, seemed like a lovely character, though not perfect himself. I really enjoyed reading as their relationship with one another develops.
Shelter jumps back and forwards in time, revealing a little more at a time about life for the characters before the war – particularly Connie’s. Sarah Frankling really made me think about how the war effort didn’t just consist of those fighting and those in munitions factories, etc – it was fought all over, with different people contributing and helping out in their own ways. It also highlights the way that a prisoner of war during WW2 would not necessarily have been German, something I to be honest never properly considered until now.
I’d really recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical or is just a real fan of stories set in WW2, as I am. It’s a fairly easy read but it has some serious issues and parts to it which provoke the reader to think a little bit, something which I really enjoyed.
Many thanks to Bonnier Zaffre and Readers First for providing a copy of this novel on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review.
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