3.75 Stars. Vivienne de la Mare lives in an old farmhouse with her two daughters on Guernsey in the Channel Islands during WWII. Her husband is away fighting in the English army, and it quickly becomes apparent to the reader that Vivienne's marriage is a loveless and unhappy one. The island suddenly becomes occupied by German troops, some moving in in the house beside her own. Even though Vivienne tries hard to remain aloof for the sake of loyalty (to her country and husband), she eventually enters into an affair with a German soldier, Gunther.
I read the plot and thought it sounded amazing. I love a good WWII love story. Yet, it is the love story that I had some trouble with. Even though I felt that the author's main storyline revolved around Gunther and Vivienne, their scenes together were so short and detail-lacking. This kept me emotionally distant from the characters, and I never really bought their romance or felt any depth between them. There were more details about Vivienne's garden or her friendship with her best friend than about interactions with Gunther.
Many of the author's passages were very beautiful and haunting. However, I've always thought that the best books are those that make you feel as if you are living inside the story as it unfolds. The Soldier's Wife felt a bit like being told a story from a person who had heard it from another person who had actually lived it. Somewhere along the way the details become lost. It is a good storyline that could have been even better with more developed characters and more attention to detail in the right places.
I would suggest reading this book for the historical value it offers and the moral questions it raises, not the romance. If you are looking for a great love story set against the backdrop of WWII, I would highly recommend reading The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons. It is unmatched (in my humble opinion).
World War II stories seem to be the hot topic for novels this year. THE SOLDIER'S WIFE is a story of one woman and her family as they experience the German occupation of the island of Guernsey. This is not the story of deprivation and suffering that was presented to us in THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL SOCIETY in which the German occupation forces confiscated entire crops year after year leaving the islanders to starve. In SOLDIER'S WIFE one never really gets the feeling that the islanders are truly suffering.
While this story does have a few scenes of brutality they are, for the most part, committed against the young slave laborers who have been brought to the island and not the islanders themselves. These islanders, while suffering some losses never really seem to be desperate for food. Granted they must give up their beautiful gardens and plant vegetables instead, but that hardly seems like a great sacrifice considering the situation.
The primary story being presented in THE SOLDIER'S WIFE is a tale of forbidden love set during the occupation. The Germans that our protagonist, an unhappily married woman named Vivienne de la Mare, comes in contact with are occupying the house next door to hers and are basically good hearted and lonely men who are "just doing a job". When Vivienne meets Gunther and makes the decision to follow her heart she doesn't experience much trepidation about the road on which she is about to embark. The affair itself has components that make it difficult to believe for a number of reasons. First, are we to believe that on this small island where Vivienne was observed by a neighbor riding in a car with Gunther, there was no gossip about her and she was not considered a collaborator? Secondly, Vivienne occupied a home with her two daughters and her mother-in-law and in the three plus years that she and Gunther engaged in their "secret" trysts no one ever caught them. Third, all of Vivienne's explanations, not matter how lame, were always accepted. Finally, the end of the story was truly unbelievable. I will not ruin the book for others by disclosing the ending and rather than go on with my "nit-picking" I will stop here.
While it is necessary to abandon all logic when it comes to the love story portion of the book, I must admit that author Margaret LeRoy does do an excellent job in evoking the flavor of this time and place in history.
Vivienne de la Mare lives a quiet existence with her two daughters and mother-in-law on Guernsey Island; her husband Eugene is away fighting in World War 2, though their relationship was anything but close even before he left. Vivienne's life takes what will become a metamorphosis when she makes the decision to stay on the island despite the threat of German occupation; it soon becomes her duty to provide for her family and stay out of the way of the Germans living next door once the Occupation begins. What she cannot deny, however, is the unsettling fact that the Germans might be much like herself, feeling many of the same forbidden emotions; most of all, she cannot deny her deep attraction for artistic Gunther, who touches her more profoundly than Eugene ever has.
This book might be simple in its premise--forbidden love between two people whose countries are at war--but it encompasses so much more than that. Vivienne is charged with not only providing for her family but also taking risks for others throughout her island community. With her own marriage loveless, Vivienne finds solace lying in Gunther's arms late at night, but she knows how much she is risking should a discovery be made of their illicit affair. Is the love contained in one small bedroom worth the risk of an entire way of life? Can Vivienne justify the possibility of being taken from the family that so desperately needs her? The emotions are raw and the images evoked are heart wrenching.
The essence of The Soldier's Wife is quite different than the other famous book set on Guernsey, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The Soldier's Wife highlights the deprivations of both war and marriage, with no light activity to make life bearable. And while I loved TGLAPPPS, The Soldier's Wife is a deeper, more complex look at an island--both the geographical and the emotional sort. Highly recommended for the rich writing and the beauty of feeling.
I probably liked this book more than it deserved, but there are two very specific reasons for the four good stars I give it:
1. The author didn't take the easy way out with the ending. Of course, to a large degree, history itself determined the ending, but the author's choices for the paths the characters took were unexpected (I was expecting sappy) and interesting.
2. The author clearly has a talent for capturing the mother/child relationship within the pages of a novel. Fellow mothers will spot this immediately and because it was so beautifully executed in the first of the novel, I was hooked for the remainder.
The storyline itself revolves around Vivienne de la Mere, a married mother living on Guernsey on the eve of Nazi occupation in WWII. Her husband (with whom she has a very complicated relationship) is off fighting for the Allies, leaving Vivienne on Guernsey to care for their two daughters and her ailing mother-in-law.
The crux of the novel is ultimately about the decisions we make in life. There are rarely right or wrong answers and Vivienne's life is no different. When the Nazi's occupy Guernsey and requisition the house next door, Vivienne is faced with decisions that make us (and her) question our morals and values; what is right and wrong.
I was never bored for a minute throughout this novel....the author kept me completely engaged. And just when I thought I had the plot figured out, things would change.
Lovely novel, altogether. Not perfect, but lovely.
on August 1, 2011
I first reviewed this book for the blog Luxury Reading.
Vivienne de la Mare is doing as many housewives do on the Isle of Guernsey in 1940: she is taking care of her family while her husband is away at war. She has her hands full: young Millie is full of life and curiosity and not adept at readily taking someone else's words for fact; Blanche is trying to blossom into womanhood within the constraints and frustrations of wartime; Evelyn, Vivienne's mother-in-law, is constantly longing for her son while her mind slowly begins to slip away.
Then Guernsey is attacked and becomes occupied by the German army. These stilted, foreign men begin to requisition anything they choose and a tenuous balance is established between the islanders and the Germans. Many think you are letting your side down if you so much as speak to these invaders, while others do what they need to for work or survival.
When an officer begins to show Vivienne kindness, she isn't immediately sure what to do. How can she trust this person who is a part of something that has done so much harm? Her feelings for Captain Gunther Lehmann are soon too much to fight and she begins a love affair like nothing she had ever thought possible. Within her candlelit room at night, they try to shut out the war and suffering outside and just enjoy the precious times they have together.
With the repercussions that could follow the revelation of their relationship, they decide to keep it secret. This tender time with Gunther becomes harder and harder to enjoy as the conditions around them begin to get worse. With supplies so low everyone seems to be living a continuously hungry, exhaustive existence. The establishment of work camps on the island brings the cruelty and death right to her doorstep and she can no longer look away or shut the reality of life from their nighttime meetings. When Millie befriends a skeletal prisoner from the work camp Vivienne must decide how far she is willing to go to help those suffering around her. How far can she push the family's safety, and how much can she really trust this enemy she has grown to love? In this madness of wartime, what is right is no longer easily seen.
I cannot begin to fully express how much I loved The Soldier's Wife! The descriptions are eloquent and atmospheric and you cannot help but become immersed in the surroundings: lazy bumblebees float through the thick, heady scented air and the bright flowers often seem in huge contrast to the dark goings on. Only the harsh winters and tossing sea seems to mirror the general life on the island. The streams have voices and the wind whispers to Vivienne, and you are lost in the story. Vivienne's biggest fear is for her children to be left motherless as she had been, and this showcases how strong her feelings are, for Gunther and for those suffering around her. As she fights to discover what is right, you will do the same. This book isn't for history or historical fiction lovers alone. This is for anyone who likes a brilliant story that just won't let go.
on December 3, 2011
I realize I'm in a distinct minority not liking The Soldier's Wife. I had such great expectations because of the reviews and was deeply disappointed. In my opinion the book is not well written, the plot is sappy and predictable, Leroy way overdoes her long flowery descriptions - and basically the book reads like The Bridges of Madison County on the Isle of Guernsey. It is beyond me why so many people liked this book. The only reason I skimmed the book to its conclusion is because we are reading it for our book club. What we will find to talk about, I can't imagine.
on July 29, 2011
I loved this book from the very first sentence to the very last sentence. As a matter of fact, after I finished reading it, I sat with it resting on my lap, not wanting to let go of it. Not wanting to step out of Vivienne's life.
This is the story of Vivienne de la Mare. She lives on a lovely idyllic island of Guernsey. Unfortunately, the lovely, butterfly filled paradise, is being occupied by the German's during World War II. When the German's occupy the house next door, Vivienne is intrigued by one of the soldiers.
She ends up falling in love with him.
This story is so multi-faceted. It's a love story, it's a war story, it's a story of survival and struggle. It's beautifully written with descriptions that allow you to bask in the beauty and recoil from the horror.
A wonderful novel.
on August 10, 2011
Set on the English Channel Island of Guernsey during the Nazi occupation of WWII, The Soldier's Wife is the story of Vivienne de la Mare, her affair with a German soldier, and her relationship with her family and neighbors. When we meet Vivienne she is caring for her mother-in-law and her two daughters while her husband is away fighting for the allied forces in London. From the onset, Vivienne is faced with agonizing decisions; the first of which is whether or not to get on the last boat to London. Shortly after deciding not to go, German bombers announce a takeover with a terrible airstrike that leaves many peaceful Guernsey civilians dead, and marks a change in island life as they know it. The Germans quickly march ashore and take over houses, businesses, and property as their need arises, and impose rules and curfews, putting the island under martial law.
When a group of German soldiers move into the house next door to Vivienne and their lives intersect, suddenly alliances become confused. Struggling for an oasis from bad marriages and the horrors of war, Vivienne enters into a love affair with a complex and sensitive German soldier named Gunther. As rumors spread and work camps form on the island, the web in which the characters become entangled takes on life and death consequences, and Vivienne finds herself wondering how well you can ever really know someone.
The Soldier's Wife is a tour de force and one of the best historical novels I've read this year. It is reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and Those Who Save Us, and the courageous and sober Vivienne is a character I won't forget. A perfect blend of plot, tension, and history, The Soldier's Wife is the kind of book you'll pick up and not be able to put down until you've read the last poignant sentence.
Leroy is a gifted writer and I give The Soldier's Wife my highest recommendation.
on July 4, 2011
This novel, about a mother and her two young daughters living under the German occupation of the Channel Island of Guernsey during World War II, has more strength in its depiction of the Guernsey landscapes, and Vivienne's domestic life in her kitchen and garden than it does as a love story between the English mother and a German army captain. Vivienne seems to have more feeling for her strongly portrayed failing mother-in-law and her two young girls than she does for the romantic hero, a German officer living in a requisitioned house next door. One wonders how Vivienne keeps her affair with Gunther secret when he spends every night in her bedroom. The treatment by the Germans of starved and beaten slave laborers on the island is cursory. Vivienne's conflict between the good she sees in Gunther and the evil of the Germans supervising the slave labor camp is weak. I recommend this novel for summer reading, but question its historical accuracy and lack of exploration of the theme of wartime atrocities.
on July 22, 2011
I read this book in one go.......on a long haul flight. I bought it knowing that I have loved all Margaret Leroy's books and it was a holiday treat that arrived the day I travelled. Perfect! It was gripping with characters that you can relate to. Sad in parts and made me cry, and just wonderful in others. I loved the garden descriptions and the way she writes so beautifully about children and they way mothers relate with them. I just loved it and recommended it to other travellers who saw me devour it. Can't wait for her next book!