Book review: The Girls from the Local by Rosie Archer
As the Second World War reaches January of 1944, three young barmaids face a series of obstacles that will test their hopes and dreams for the future.
Welcome back to Gosport, the Hampshire town with a long and distinguished naval and maritime history which has become familiar to an army of readers thanks to the wonderful novels of Rosie Archer, one of its proudest inhabitants.
Author of a series of books based on the famous ‘canary girls’ who worked on munition production at the Royal Navy Armament Depot in Gosport, Archer returns to her home town for a new, heartwarming saga set against the fascinating backdrop of a bustling high street pub.
Their lives, their loves and their dramas spring to life at a time when the country was covertly preparing for the D-Day landings, and bombing raids by enemy aircraft were still very much a constant threat to major towns and cities.
When 18-year-old Ruby Garett’s Gosport home is bombed, she loses her beloved mother and all her belongings. Her only comfort is her bar job at the popular Point of No Return pub and the kindness of landlord Mervyn Tanner who has given her a home there.
The work helps take her mind off worrying about her fiancé Joe Stark who is away fighting in France and she enjoys close friendship with fellow barmaid Marge, a true party girl with glossy curls and an easy manner. Marge makes sure they have fun, going out to dances and flirting with all and sundry.
But Marge, married to Alf, a regular soldier who is also fighting overseas, is not as fond of her other role as a mother to two children, Tony aged five and baby Chrissie, instead leaving them in the care of her nan who lives with them.
The only thing Ruby that doesn’t like about working at the Point is Sylvie Meadows, another of the pub’s barmaids. Sylvie, who thinks herself ‘a bit hoity-toity,’ is a singing siren and she may have a beautiful voice but she is out for all she can get, including Ruby’s fiancé Joe.
Can the bonds of friendship and camaraderie that hold together the Point also give these three young women hope in the darkest of times?
Archer has firmly established herself as one of the nation’s favourite wartime saga writers, filling her novels with rich period detail – from songs and films to clothes, household products and food –creating a warm and engrossing sense of nostalgia that cannot help but seduce her fans.
The Girls from the Local is a compelling and emotional tale but it also brings home the hardship, grit and stark realities of wartime Britain as the three women struggle to cope with the privations and uncertainties of everyday life.
As always, friendship and family take a star billing, making this warm, appealing story the perfect choice for the Christmas season.
(Quercus, hardback, £20.99)