I approached this book not knowing quite what it was. The title did not reveal much, and for those who associate blue doors and window shutters with Greece I might as well state immediately that this book is not about Greece. At all. Instead, it is about an aspect of history I had never heard of before, namely that of British children sent off on their own as immigrants to Australia and other such “remote” locations.
It all starts with the German bombings of London during World War Two. Due to the sheer confusion and panic in the aftermath of these bombing raids, the Smith siblings are labelled as orphans and sent off abroad, with the eldest, Maggie, feeling very responsible for her brother Billy and little sister Grace.
They are not exactly welcomed with open arms in Australia. Billy is forcibly separated from his sisters, ending up in one orphanage, the girls in another. The orphanages are run by Catholic orders, and the fact that the Smith children aren’t Catholics is neither here nor there. The author is clearly not impressed by what she’s found during her research of these institutions and does not portray this as a loving and caring environment, rather the reverse. The monks and nuns responsible for the Smith children and all the other little immigrants show an amazing lack of empathy, making me draw parallels with similar stories from Ireland. So instead of being loved and cuddled, the children are given but rudimentary schooling, after which it is work, work and even more work.
The central character is Maggie. She takes her role as the eldest very seriously, and while Maggie remains convinced their mother isn’t dead, she goes along with the official story that their mother died in the bombings, thinking it will make it easier for Billy and Grace to adapt. Being the eldest, Maggie is the first to leave the orphanage for a new life outside, but she is torn by worry for little Grace, so unsuited to the harsh life with the nuns, and even more for Billy, whom she hasn’t heard of in years.
Ms Fallon is a competent writer. Her characters are well-developed, her prose is fluid and her descriptions bring the various settings to life. Nor does she shy away from the fact that this is a story with no Happily Ever After—how can there be? Personally, however, I found the ending somewhat inconclusive, but all in all The Only Blue Door is a gripping read, shedding light on human tragedies I had never heard of before.
© Anna Belfrage
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