This is the fourth book of five in No Woman Is an Island: Inspiring and Empowering International Women, a collection of novels written by different authors and edited by Jean Gill. I agreed to review this as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team, for which I received a copy in return for a fair and honest review.
The Chalky Sea is a story of the physical, mental and romantic tribulations of people from different backgrounds and countries brought together by the disruptions of war. Clare Flynn has set her novel in England during WW II and tells it from two viewpoints, one English, one Canadian. I doing so, she paints a very realistic picture of the vagaries and horror of that war.
Englishwoman Glen Collinwood lives in Eastbourne on the eastern coast of England and is enduring a farewell to her husband, who is heading off to an unknown job in the Army during WW II. Despite the fact she knows she may never see him again, her good-bye is muted, almost sterile, which is an early hint to her character. Two weeks later, her sleepy little town is attacked by German bombers, who will return several times over the next two years. Jim Armstrong is a wheat farmer in Ontario, uncertain whether he should volunteer for the army. But when he learns his fiancée is having an affair with his younger brother, he leaves the farm and two weeks later, is on a ship bound for England with other enlistees.
As the war progresses, Gwen is called upon to intercept and translate German radio broadcasts, the job which Jim, who is billeted in her house, will take over. The presence of the soldiers, as well as of a young mother with two children who loses her home in a bombing attack, causes Gwen to re-evaluate her distant and unemotional relationships – not only with her husband but also with the other people in her life. A romance with Jim brings her shortcomings into clarity.
The author brings in some interesting facts – the Canadian army volunteers find themselves stuck in England, enduring unending and prolonged training before they are ever considered ready for combat, and the German bombed non-critical targets to demoralize the British. This, along with the expected disruptions caused by the war, wartime romances between young soldiers and local girls, unexpected pregnancies, rationing, and death notices underscore the common theme is how war changes people in basic ways, sometime for better and sometimes for worse. Gwen’s gradual metamorphosis is at the heart of this premise.
There were a few parts of the plot that didn’t ring true: Jim’s best friend falling instantaneously in love with one of the ‘common’ women and marrying her at once, Jim’s relationship with a woman he doesn’t understand and doesn’t seem to like, followed by his intense relationship with Gwen, which ends with no lasting emotion.
The ending was abrupt, but happy, for one of these characters, while the future of the other was left hanging at a crucial juncture. I would have liked to see the former drawn out more and the latter resolved.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed this historical romance. The characters were for the most part believable and the settings rendered with such realism that the reader is sucked into the story. The author has done her research, and the tension and deprivations the war brought to England are palpable.
This is the first book in the author’s Canadians series, and I plan to read the other two books in that series: The Alien Corn and The Frozen River.
About the author (Amazon)
Historical novelist Clare Flynn is a former global marketing director and business owner. She now lives in Eastbourne on the south coast of England and most of her time these days is spent writing her novels. She is the author of twelve novels and a short story collection. Her books deal with displacement – her characters are wrenched away from their comfortable existences and forced to face new challenges – often in outposts of an empire that largely disappeared after WW2.
Clare’s novels often feature places she knows well and she does extensive research to build the period and geographic flavor of her books.
Fluent in Italian, she loves spending time in Italy. In her spare time she likes to quilt, paint and travel as often and as widely as possible. She is an active member of the Historical Novel Society, the Romantic Novelists Association, The Society of Authors, and the Alliance of Independent Authors.
You can find Clare Flynn
On twitter: @Clarefly
On her book site: www.clareflynn.co.uk.
On Face book: https://www.facebook.com/clarefly
You can find The Chalky Sea in the anthology or as a standalone book on Amazon: