21/07/2013

Pack up your Troubles (by Pam Weaver)

I know one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I think it’s inevitable to some degree. So when browsing the Bookbag shelves of books available for review, this one leapt out at me. I had not heard of Pam Weaver, but this was clearly a women’s fiction book, probably based in the middle of the 20th century, most likely featuring some young women during or in the aftermath of the war years.

That's pretty much what the book is about, so it was a good cover.

'Pack up your troubles' opens on VE Day. Connie and some friends are on their way to Trafalgar Square to celebrate. She meets some other girls, and gets chatting to Eva. They find themselves parted from the rest of their group, but have fun anyway, including playing in a fountain with some soldiers. Unfortunately, as they discover at the end of the day, they are from families who have sworn enmity and should not even have spoken to each other, let alone become friendly.

Connie has an unpleasant secret in her past, which is hinted at more than once. She is part of a close family, although her brother disappeared some years previously. She is also friendly with some gypsies. One of them starts helping out a local painter.. and later is accused of theft.

Meanwhile Connie starts training as a nurse. A young girl who works for her family receives some nasty anonymous letters. Two young men both decide that they very much like Connie... and a very unpleasant older man appears from time to time.

Yes, there are a lot of different story-lines, loosely related and interwoven. The plot jumped around quite a bit; I don’t know how many times I forgot one of the large cast of characters, and had to remind myself who it was. While I appreciated the positive slant given to the gypsies, their story didn’t really fit with the rest; it could easily have been missed out, as could the part about the family feud.

While Connie is the viewpoint character for most of the story, and likeable enough, I never entirely sympathised with her. I like to have my emotions caught when I read; I was a bit disappointed that this didn’t happen, even in one scene later in the book that should at least have brought a tear to my eye.

Still, the author has evidently done her research thoroughly. From a social history point of view, it’s interesting, and the writing flows well. The way the different subplots gradually converge is cleverly done, although the climax of the book seems a little over-dramatic.

At the end of the book are two short stories. Both were contemporary with mildly amusing twists, and I enjoyed them.

I'm not sure I'll read this again, nor will I be looking for other books by this author, but if you enjoy mid-20th century women's fiction and a complex set of subplots, then this is a pleasant enough read.

My longer review of 'Pack up your troubles' can be found at the Bookbag site. 

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