shortlisted for Book of the Month
"Wow. Just wow. What a book."
Wow. Just wow. What a book.
JoJo Moyes usually writes heart-rending tales that leave you brightened and yet destroyed inside but this one is different.
Alice has married an American she met in England and being in a somewhat uncomfortable situation at home, smothered by her parent's disapproval, the exotic, handsome Bennett Van Cleve doesn't have to do much to win her heart. But Alice realises very quickly that things are a little - odd. They share a cabin with his father on the voyage back across the Atlantic, and the house she is to call her new home is a mausoleum a shrine to Bennett's dear, departed mother, a woman, who to listen to the two menfolk, was little short of a saint. She has swapped one stifling house for another.
But Alice finds something to do - she joins a new initiative started by Eleanor Roosevelt to lift the populace following the Great Depression and becomes a travelling librarian, delivering books through the locality of her Kentucky home, in mountains and valleys, on horseback.
With five other women, Margery, Beth, Izzy, Kathleen and Sophia, they run the library with the help of local man Fred Guisler in whose outbuilding the library is based, and gradually win over an isolated, ultra-conservative population. Until, that is, Alice's marital problems spill into the wider community, the local mine causes a major flood that wipes out several valleys, and Mr Van Cleve declares war on the library.
Set in the 1930s, it is clear how, at this time, the UK was a very different place to Kentucky and the USA as a whole. Reading this, if it were not for the references to movies and cars, this could be set in any era up to a hundred years earlier. The attitudes towards women and blacks didn't change until after the 1960s in the USA: segregation and blacks-only libraries, laws forcing blacks to use separate resources, and any woman who did not conform to the ideal - expected to stay at home to be a wife and mother, doing as she was told and seeing nothing wrong when her husband used his fists to keep her in line - was viewed with deep suspicion and shunned. It is shocking to a modern woman; it was shocking to Alice.
As much as this is a history lesson, in the life of conservative Kentucky, of the travelling libraries, it is also a story of female friendship. The women are the stars in this story, the men merely allow them to shine. When Alice needs comfort, it is the women who shield her, when Margery is in deep trouble, it is the women who act. The men aren't all bad - Bennett has his moments, Fred and Sven are the epitome of alpha male, movie star perfection - and if they slip into caricature, who cares?
I loved this book.
© Nicky Galliers