2016 Historical Fiction

The Villa Rouge by Maggie Ross

 Source: Free review copy received from publisher

Five words from the blurb: WWII, family, secret, consequences, life

I hadn’t heard of Maggie Ross until this book popped through my letterbox, but the PR blurb highlighted the fact that she won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize back in 1969 and so I was intrigued.

The Villa Rouge is a slow moving, but richly detailed, story set during WWII. The plot revolves around Morgan Pericall, a young woman whose husband volunteers to join the army at the first opportunity. Betrayed by his abandonment, she leaves London and moves back into her childhood home. The events of WWII slowly develop around her and we see the effect that war has on a range of different people.

Charlie found it exciting listening to Simon’s tales: twelve miles inland from the coast had been designated a danger area; London was in a state of emergency, although it was reported that people were dying mostly from accidents caused by pitch-dark roads; there were already wardens on street patrols in the West End. Arpent said A.R.P posts were being set up in London’s private houses. So why not at the Villa Rouge? Rhoda and Charlie thought it thrilling. All Morgan could think about was her home in Tufnell Park.

I thought that I knew most things about WWII, but this book has a level of detail which surpasses most others on the subject. I’m not sure how old Maggie Ross is, but I read this feeling as though she’d lived through these experiences herself. The authenticity and meandering nature of the plot gave the impression that this book was more autobiographical than fictional.

Much of this book was impressive, but my main gripe was that the characters weren’t very likeable (something I’m scared of writing, given the fact I think this is autobiographical!) I love deeply flawed characters, but these didn’t seem to have many redeeming features. I failed to form a connection to them and so didn’t care what happened.

I was also a bit annoyed to discover (on the very last page!) that this book carries on into a sequel. I try not to start series until the final one is published, as I know I will never remember enough detail if I have to wait until the next one is released. I think the fact this is only the first half of a book should be revealed on the cover.

These small problems shouldn’t put you off reading it, as there is a lot to enjoy in here. The Villa Rouge gives a rare insight into domestic life in England during WWII. Recommended to anyone who enjoys reading about family life.




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