Book review: The Soldier’s Wife by Pamela Hart

The tough life of a woman left to survive alone while her husband risks all on the battlefields of Gallipoli is brought to vivid life in a beautiful novel from award-winning Australian author Pamela Hart.

Monday, 19th October 2015, 10:00 am
The Soldiers Wife by Pamela Hart
The Soldiers Wife by Pamela Hart

The Soldier’s Wife, inspired by the experiences of Hart’s own grandfather during the First World War, transports us back to Sydney in 1915 where newlywed Ruby Hawkins is forced to forge a new career in a man’s world.

But what makes Hart’s novel sing is not just the story but the attention to detail, the startling recreation of the everyday, and often humdrum, existence of women who fought their own small battles on the home front while their men took on the enemy in distant lands.

The tensions, the uncertainties, the long absences and the sheer grind of domestic responsibilities come under the spotlight in a story that is also rich in romance and human emotion.

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In July of 1915 the world is being torn apart by war but Ruby and Jimmy Hawkins, married for only a few weeks, are sure their love will survive the traumas and tragedies ahead.

Country girl Ruby, still only 22, knows very little yet about being a wife and in the blink of an eye and a last touch of their fingertips at the railway station in Sydney, Jimmy is dispatched to fight in the desperate battles raging in the Dardanelles.

War doesn’t stop him planning for the future they promised each other and he struggles to keep his dreams alive amidst the brutality of the trenches by writing letters to his beloved Ruby.

In Sydney, Ruby is boarding with generous, practical and kind-hearted Maree Hannan who is looking after her two-year-old son Eddie while her husband serves far from home.

Reluctant to return to live with her parents, Ruby finds work as a bookkeeper at the yard of a timber merchant, a job which throws her into a man’s world fraught with prejudices and complications.

She reads Jimmy’s letters, full of love and longing, but as the weeks slip into months the distance between her and Jimmy seems to grow and as tragedy starts to touch those around her, a powerful new attraction beckons.

Ruby is discovering her hidden strengths and talents, but will the price be her marriage?

The Soldier’s Wife lays bare the unforgiving attitudes of society in the early decades of the 20th century when men made the rules and women’s lives were dominated by obligations to home and family.

In Ruby we have a feisty young woman determined to pursue her independence but who cannot forget the love and loyalty she owes to her absent husband. We feel her heartaches and hopes, her fears and her joys as war wreaks its inevitable changes.

Her unforgettable story unfolds through her experiences at home and work and through the heartbreaking letters written by her husband as he endures the unimaginable horrors of Gallipoli.

A moving evocation of love in wartime…

(Piatkus, paperback, £7.99)