Monday, September 10, 2012

Review: Muddy Boots and Silk Stockings by Julia Stoneham

By: Julia Stoneham
Publisher: Allison & Busby
ISBN: B0077F5V14

About the book:

England, 1943. The country is at war

With so many men away fighting, it is the women left behind who must keep the country going, and when Alice Todd is abandoned by her husband, she must find a means to provide for herself and her young son. She is offered the job of looking after the group of land girls at Lower Post Stone Farm and soon discovers they each have a story – and some have secrets they’d rather not reveal. The harsh times of war are tempered by the Saturday evening dances in the local hall, but as the hostilities continue, it is clear to Alice that there is more tragedy to follow closer to home.

Muddy Boots and Silk Stockings is the evocative and compelling story of the sacrifices made during wartime and the indomitable spirit of those left behind, from the author of the much-loved drama series The House of Eliot.


With her marriage disintegrating and the country deep in the throes of World War II, Alice Todd finds she must reinvent herself from the roles wife and mother to mother and breadwinner. In order to support both herself and her young son Edward-John, Alice applies to the Women's Land Army for the position of warden at Lower Post Stone Farm, overseeing a the hostel and its Land Girls, managing the meals and schedules and ensuring that the girls adhere to a code of conduct and behavior befitting their status as representatives of the Land Army. With the reluctant support of the enigmatic farmer owner, Roger Bayliss, and Rose, her prickly assitant, Alice dives into the work and discovers the life of a warden to a group of very different girls is by turns both exhausting and terrifying. But as as her tenure at the farm progresses, Alice and her "girls" become an unexpected and unorthodox family, who must band together in order to survive when the horrors of war find their way to Lower Post Stone Farm.

Oh goodness, where to start. I adore World War II history, and was made aware of and interested in the history of the "Land Girls" through the three-season BBC television series of the same name. While the television show took some hits for historical inaccuracies, on the whole it is a delicious period piece full of atmosphere, suspense, and compelling characters. After finishing the third series I decided to seek out any books on the subject of the Land Girls and their role in the war effort. This novel was my first discovery of fiction in this vein -- and if you're thinking about reading it, let me recommend you stick with the television series instead.

All of the pieces are in place for what could, and should, have been a compelling character piece featuring women exploring new avenues of employment and opportunity thanks to the war and the accompanying need for workers in previous male-only fields. And there are moments of character depth, moments that hint at the possibilities inherent in material of this ilk (but too often sadly unrealized by this novel): the sensitive Jewish painter Andreis, who fled Nazi persecution in his native Netherlands but couldn't start anew in England; the shy Hester, raised in a (overly) strict religious home, who blossoms under the friendship of the other Land Girls and finds romance with a G.I. from North Dakota; the fiery attraction between Georgina, an avowed pacifist, and Christopher, Roger's son and a pilot, who find themselves irrevocably changed by the war and each other's convictions.

But these flashes of promising characterization are lost in a veritable sea of awkward prose, run-on sentences, and stagnant plot development. For example, Stoneham has an unfortunate tendency to repeatedly describe the girls' scent -- instead of being atmospheric it just reads as awkward and off-puttiing. And then, starting around chapter three, every few pages (I read this on my Kindle) contains sentences anywhere from six to ten lines long (one shouldn't become winded when reading!). And sadly there is an over-abundance of "telling" instead of "showing" the action unfolding on the page -- a shame since this time period, and Stoneham's subject matter, are rife with dramatic possibilities. While this novel had potential, and I applaude and appreciate Stoneham's desire to explore a little-discussed aspect of homefront, 1940s-era history, this effort stands in need of stronger characterizations, dynamic plot development, and thorough editing.

No comments: