Secrets at Bletchley Park by Margaret Dickinson: Packed with revelations, romance and dramas - book review -
Two young women – one born into extreme northern poverty and the other from the gilded wealth of London – are destined to meet through one of the 20th century’s greatest levellers… wartime.
Both will be entrusted with the nation’s security and safety at the intelligence and codebreaking headquarters at Bletchley Park, but both have secrets of their own that they want to keep hidden.
Much-loved author Margaret Dickinson, a writer who had her first novel published at the age of 25 and has since gone on to pen a raft of bestselling sagas, explores the social changes wrought on different classes of society by the Second World War in a moving tale of love, conflict, family, friendship and womanhood.
In 1929, life for ten-year-old Mattie Price, born and raised in the back streets of Sheffield, is tough. With a bullying, petty thief for a father and a mother who turns to the bottle to cope with her husband’s brutish ways, it is left to the young girl and her caring, dependable older brother, Joe, to feed and care for their three younger siblings.
But fortunately for Mattie, she has others rooting for her too. The Spencer family, who live at the top of the same street, have grown to love her like their own children, and Mattie’s teachers recognise that the girl is a first class mathematician and clever beyond her years. Along with Joe, they are all determined that she will have the opportunity in life she deserves.
And when she wins a place at the local secondary school and then a scholarship to Oxford University, it seems Mattie’s life is about to change forever.
Meanwhile, Victoria Hamilton, living in the opulence of London’s Kensington district, has all the material possessions that a young girl could want. But her mother, Grace, a widow from the Great War, is cold and distant, making no secret of the fact that she never wanted a child and that her husband had been ‘thoughtless’ to ‘get himself killed’ during the First World War.
Taking no interest in her daughter, Grace lives her life in the social whirl of upper-class society, leaving Victoria in the care of her governess and the servants.
At eleven years old, Victoria is sent to boarding school where, for the first time in her young life, she is able to make friends of her own age, and then on to finishing school in Davos in Switzerland where she proves to be a natural linguist.
As Mattie and Victoria find their footing in the adult world, they are both set on a path that will bring them together at Bletchley Park where an unlikely friendship is born and together they will face the rest of the war keeping the nation’s secrets and helping to win the fight.
Dickinson is a born storyteller, immersing her readers in the troubled lives of Mattie and Victoria as they both suffer the privations of childhood neglect, discover the warmth of friendship, and battle through the joys and pitfalls of growing up.
Love and kindness prove to be powerful forces for good in this page-turning story as the war brings change and new opportunities for women from all walks of society. There are revelations, romance and dramas along the way but through it all, the healing gift of friendship remains the bedrock of Mattie and Victoria’s lives.
Written with Dickinson’s warmth and insight, and brimming with the kind of rich period detail that brings the past to life so vividly, Secrets at Bletchley Park is a delight for all saga fans.
(Pan, paperback, £7.99)