- Frank Delaney and Frank McCourt have made Irish-novel lovers out of me. I couldn’t resist this one.
I also recommend:
- Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
- Emma by Jane Austen
Summary from GoodReads:
Abandoned by her father and neglected by her self-centered, unstable mother, Sheila McGee cannot wait to escape the drudgery of her mill village life in Northern Ireland. Her classic Irish beauty helps her win the 1941 Linen Queen competition, and the prize money that goes with it finally gives her the opportunity she’s been dreaming of. But Sheila does not count on the impact of the Belfast blitz which brings World War II to her doorstep. Now even her good looks are useless in the face of travel restrictions, and her earlier resolve is eroded by her ma’s fear of being left alone.
When American troops set up base in her village, some see them as occupiers but Sheila sees them as saviors—one of them may be her ticket out. Despite objections from her childhood friend, Gavin O’Rourke, she sets her sights on an attractive Jewish-American army officer named Joel Solomon, but her plans are interrupted by the arrival of a street-wise young evacuee from Belfast.
Frustrated, Sheila fights to hold on to her dream but slowly her priorities change as the people of Northern Ireland put old divisions aside and bond together in a common purpose to fight the Germans. Sheila’s affection for Joel grows as she and Gavin are driven farther apart. As the war moves steadily closer to those she has grown to love, Sheila confronts more abandonment and loss, and finds true strength, compassion, and a meaning for life outside of herself.
It feels kind of strange, but this book reminded me quite a bit of two classics – Emma by Jane Austen and Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. So what do all these books have in common, you might ask? Well… I don’t know about you, but Emma, Scarlett and Sheila are not very easy characters to like … at first.
In The Linen Queen, Sheila struggles with some pretty hard knocks. Her dad is gone, her mom is crazy, her aunt super pious and her uncle a pervert. She works hard, yet sees no real benefit to all the work and she really, really wants to leave Ireland.
But Sheila is living and working toward leaving Ireland in 1941, and war is on the horizon. And, much like Scarlett in Gone with the Wind, war has a way of bringing out the grit in a pretty girl – and so it was with Sheila.
I really, really enjoyed The Linen Queen. I found Sheila to be petty and self-centered, but as I read, as I really thought about the choices she was making and watched her growth I came to love her and wish her well.
In addition to getting to know Sheila, I also got to know a part of WWII geography I really hadn’t been familiar with. Belfast and the northern part of Ireland was involved in the war at a time the southern area was not. I think Patricia Falway did a fantastic job of capturing the tension not only between the two factions of the Irish people, but also by adding the “Yanks” into the mix, and even a Jewish one at that.
For WWII novel fans, this book is a must read. Just.. be patient, give Sheila a little time and remember, all those that are young need time to grow.
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