by Patricia Fenton
This work of 90,000 words in some 270 pages welcomes a new and rare talent in author Patricia Fenton.
Its genre defies ready classification because, although founded on the real-life love-story of the author’s clearly beloved parents-in-law, Fenton has resisted the temptation to write a work of hagiographic memoir in favour of producing a novel that might well be the story of Everyman and Everywoman who found each other in the midst of the greatest war in history.
Indeed, she might have been lurking in the back of any of my classrooms over the years whilst I insisted to multitudes of my students that history is largely the story of ordinary people doing occasionally extraordinary things in frequently extraordinary situations.
As a war novel, ‘War Bride’ might have been expected to deal with separate episodes of derring-do, high points of action resulting in narrow escapes, near misses, amazing plot twists and coincidences. In a word, just like a television series.
Well, it doesn’t. The book takes the recurrent fear for loved ones, the impositions and impingements of war demands upon one’s daily life, the blighted landscapes of terrifying and depressing bomb-sites, views of the carnage wrought by total war and the overarching presence of a truly mortal struggle, and distils it all into a state of being that is, like a diseased tooth, always and inescapably there to provide a dull ache framing life, love and fears.
Fenton’s three-dimensional depictions of Welsh-born Evie and Kiwi serviceman Frank as they grow up in the poverty of a Depression that caused AJP Taylor to assert that, “By and large, government accepted a deplorably narrow view of its responsibilities”, show them taking delight in the small things of life and the good times (always relative) that were to be found in their working and living environments, whether in South Wales or the Bay of Plenty.
Attitudes and manners are true to those of the times, and subtle touches lie in Evie’s recognition of her employers’ naming of their daughter, Margaret, for ‘the younger princess’ and the mention of the Abdication. Similarly, my moment’s hesitation over the apparent richness of the vocabulary taught pre-War in New Zealand country schools yielded to another memory that there was, in fact, a time in NZ education prior to the school restructuring of 1989 when erudition was not only taught, but valued.
The author’s skill in description and depiction of motives, purposes and occurrences reveal an outstanding grasp of people and their motivations, and this is nowhere more evident than in her portrayal of Evie’s father and aunt who, understanding that her mother’s worst excesses of envy and spite are due to clinical depression through losing three children and near-death in childbirth, close ranks to protect the young girl.
But, it might be said, there is a reason for everything and the life experiences of Evie and Frank as they grow up in their separate environments are directly responsible for their ability to cope with later demands in life and work that are very different from any they might have envisaged. Evie’s dyslexia, for example, sees her find ways to cope with learning disability that any sufferer will recognise as quite typical, while Frank’s bouts with ill health make him less than A1 for the purpose of overseas service. But they not only cope, but survive—Evie in a London crèche and Frank as a postal clerk and Air-Raid Warden.
All without a commando, secret agent or fighter pilot in sight.
This is an outstanding story of two ordinary, recognisable and totally familiar people from opposite hemispheres who, but for World War II, would never have met. It is the stronger and richer for being based on fact but, as noted, Patricia Fenton never overplays her hand in that and sticks to the story of ordinary people doing occasionally extraordinary things in frequently extraordinary situations.
Author: Patricia Fenton
Publisher: Heritage Press
RRP: Paperback: $39.99, eBook: $9.99
Available: Paperback: Heritage Press and all good bookshops; eBook: Heritage Press