25/07/2008

Daughters of Eden (by Charlotte Bingham)

I have a growing appreciation for Charlotte Bingham's books. I have found some of them rather trite, but have thoroughly enjoyed others. I'm impressed by the different styles she manages to write, and the depth of her historical research and understanding.

'Daughters of Eden', which I found in a charity shop in the UK, opens in the late 1930s.

Poppy, the plain, shy daughter of wealthy Americans, is unexpectedly engaged to be married to a peer in the UK. Poppy is not at all sure about this, but feels that anything is better than becoming an old maid. Or so she thinks, until the marriage takes place and it becomes clear that her husband despises her. He often ignores her, and meets with parties of men to discuss what appears to be treason.

Meanwhile, Marjorie is left at a very unpleasant boarding school by a mother who is not remotely interested in her. After eight years, she is adopted by her Aunt Hester, a dour widow who gradually thaws and becomes more lovable - and who also appears to have some kind of secret life.

Then we meet Kate, the highly academic daughter of Professor Maddox, who believes that education is wasted on women. Rather than allowing his daughter to go to Oxford, he sends her to a secretarial college.

These three young women, along with hundreds of others, are selected to work in Eden House, for undercover espionage as war is declared. The novel follows their lives, those of some young men in similar work, and also those they are seeking to unmask - declared Fascists in England who want to bring the government down and sign a treaty with Hitler.

This novel was exciting and fast-paced, and presumably accurate in many respects. It gave a fascinating insight into ordinary people doing undercover work during World War II which may well have been approximately how it happened, and I found it quite a page -turner. It's not a short novel (over 500 pages) but I finished it in two days.

On the other hand, I didn't find any of the characters very sympathetic: perhaps because too many of them were followed. I could keep track of who was whom, but didn't find myself caring much about any of them.

I'm glad I read it, but doubt if I'll be reading it again as my preference is generally for character-based novels where I care about what happens to them, rather than about the various subplots as such.

Still, recommended for anyone who likes this kind of book. It was well written and very readable.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 25th July 2008

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