17/02/2005

The Girl from Barefoot House (by Maureen Lee)

I had never before read anything by Maureen Lee although she's a fairly prolific author. My taste for historical novels is more for upper class romances in Regency times than working class poverty in the middle of the 20th century. Nevertheless, I was given 'The Girl from Barefoot House', and having taken several months to get around to reading it, I found it quite enjoyable once I had started.

Josie, three years old at the start of the novel, is the daughter of a prostitute during World War II. She is much-loved and innocent, observing some of the horrors of life but basically quite content. However soon after the book starts, a bomb rips her life apart, and she is sent to live with her cold aunt and over-friendly uncle.

The book is mainly about Josie's growing up, falling in love, travelling, and finally finding a niche for herself in the world. I suppose it's a well-written look at social history primarily. Despite some appalling circumstances, Maureen Lee cleverly manages to give clear impressions of some of the terrible things that happened without being gruesome.

Unfortunately I found the characters a bit flat. Josie herself is at her most delightful at three years old. Once she becomes a teenager, and then an adult, she seems less realistic. I was interested in what happened, so I kept reading - but I was never gripped. I didn't find myself caring enough to be moved even when she felt things deeply.

I doubt if I'll read it again.

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