After the Bombing – Claire Morrall
I have read and enjoyed four of Claire Morrall’s previous novels so I think it’s fair to say I’m a fan! I’ve read enough books (both diamonds and duds) to discover what I like and if I feel the urge for something understated yet thought-provoking, I know that Ms Morrall’s writing will tick all the boxes.
Morrall’s characters are rarely happy-go-lucky souls and young Music teacher, Alma Braithwaite, is no exception. Having experienced severe personal loss during Hitler’s bombing of Exeter in May 1942, Alma has failed to move on, neither emotionally nor physically given that she now teaches at Goldwyn’s, the girls’ school she attended during the 40s and still lives in the old family home. Alma is a creature of habit, relishing routine and her own company. When Miss Cunningham-Smith dies in the Spring of 1963, a new headmistress arrives to sweep away the cobwebs and enforce her own regime. Miss Yates is a force to contend with and her new-fangled ways are an immediate source of conflict with Alma who eulogized Miss Cunningham-Smith.
As the novel progresses, we discover what happened to Alma and her school-friends after the 1942 bombing when they were temporarily relocated to university halls under the supervision of a young Mathematics lecturer, Robert Gunner. In the 1963 narrative, we gradually learn more about Miss Yates and her possible weaknesses whilst Robert Gunner returns into Alma’s life as the widowed parent of a student in her form class. It would seem that the psychological wounds of war are still open and smarting for our central characters whilst they are expected to keep calm and carry on.
The main characters are neither likeable nor particularly exciting but are all the more real as a result. It was refreshing to see the effects of the war on those at home rather than those at the front especially those who experienced the full impact of Hitler’s bombs and how those left behind coped. The nervy Robert Gunner seems powerless when faced by so many confident women, an attitude which does not seem to improve with age!
Like Morrall’s other novels, this is a slow burner peopled with characters who don’t quite fit in the “normal” world but a gentle read which will reward the patient reader.
After the Bombing is published by Sceptre – release date 27th March 2014, 384 pages.