`You know what they say about GIs and English girls’ knickers,’ ran the wartime joke, `One Yank and they’re off.’ When Gloria met Ron, he was an American pilot who thought nothing of getting hit by shrapnel in the cockpit. She was working in a munitions factory in Bristol during the Blitz, but still found time to grab what she wanted. Ciggies. Sex. American soldiers. But war has an effect on people. Gloria did all sorts of things she wouldn’t normally do – evil things, some of them – because she might be dead tomorrow. Or someone might. Now, fifty years on, it’s payback time. In her old folks’ home, Gloria is forced to remember the real truth about her and Ron, and confront the secret at the heart of her dramatic home front story. In a gripping, vibrant evocation of wartime Britain, Liz Jensen explores the dark impulses of women whose war crimes are committed on the home front, in the name of sex, survival, greed, and love.
Gloria, a poorly educated, foul-mouthed old woman doesn’t seem like the normal heroine, but the tortuous interwoven account of her life, now in old age & formerly during the war, certainly make for compelling reading.
This is a story with layers which float to the surface indiscriminately. There is the typical story of a simple English girl seduced by an American serviceman, an amusing tale of an old dear with a weak memory causing havoc in an old people’s home, an account of betrayal & human suffering and in amongst the “jokes” and amusing anecdotes, a sad story of many unhappy people affected by events 60 years earlier.
The use of a hypnotist allows the story to be slowly unravelled with an interesting final twist, but it doesn’t seem quite credible. Gloria’s early wartime experiences, however, are understandable. The two young sisters are effectively orphaned in a time and place where moral constraints have disappeared, as an antidote to the awful horrors which also occur in their everyday lives.
This was a book which I did not warm to in the early pages, but it was an easy read and soon became a fascinating account of a real human being who despite her misfortune still relished the pleasures of life.
Liz Jensen was born in Oxfordshire in 1959. Her critically-acclaimed work spans black comedy, science fiction, satire, family drama, historical fantasy and psychological suspense. Three of her novels have been nominated for the Orange Prize and in 1998 she was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Award. She is Writer in Residence at Kingston University and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Her work has been developed for film and translated into more than 20 languages.