Kate and Olivia by Annie Murray
This book was also published under the title Birmingham Friends.
From the back of the book:
“Anna grew up with stories of her mother’s childhood in Birmingham and of Kate’s friend, Olivia. And when Kate dies, she leaves her daughter a final story, one that this time tells the whole truth of her life with Olivia Kemp. And as Anna reads on, she is shocked to discover how little she really knows about the mother she felt so close to. With Kate’s words of caution ringing in her head, she goes in search of the one woman who can answer the urgent questions she now has to ask… “
SPOILERS (you’ve been warned)
This book has twists and turns that you’d never see coming from the first few chapters of the book. It captures the intimacy of Kate and Olivia’s relationship as you read about their childhood friendship and experiences.
It gets way more complicated when they reach adulthood and move off in different directions. Kate becomes a nurse while Olivia enlists in the British Royal Naval Service (WRNS). But Olivia has secrets, even as close as she was with Kate, she never divulged the scenes she witnessed at her home. Her father being portrayed as a sexual addict and her mother cringing at the thought of his touch. This shaped Olivia’s view of men and she becomes very promiscuous. This isn’t to say there are lots of sex scenes in the novel, there aren’t. It’s well written and not a steamy romance type book at all. But a good study in human behavior as you read about the lives of two women, once so very close, and the different ways they deal with the war and people they interact with.
One of Kate’s proudest moments is when she is called to attend a birth as the doctor is running late. Who does the doctor turn out to be? Her own father. She was astounded to see her there and complimented her handling of the birth and care of the newborn. He said she was a credit to the profession and it was good she was there in the medical community. One of the proudest moments for her. The most sorrowful parts were the loss of Kate’s fiancé Angus.
Angus was listed as missing when his plane disappeared over the ocean. In a state of limbo, not knowing if she ought to give up and move on or hold on to hope, she is gently courted by Douglas Craven. He is a big man with a crippled leg therefore he cannot serve his country as many of the able bodied men were doing. Finally the war is over and Kate moves on, agreeing to marry Craven even though her true love, her heart and soul, will always be with Angus.
Douglas proves to be tender at first and then his true colors come out – a jealous and controlling man. Kate struggles with him constantly over issues of her independence. She wants to remain working as a nurse and he wants her home, awaiting him when he returns from work. Meanwhile, letters from Olivia are fewer and have less in them. Olivia returns to Birmingham only to be controlled by her parents who have her committed to an insane asylum.
Too many spoilers come up after all this so…I am done sharing here. It was a good read and while I would have liked the ending to be different, I am still interested in reading more of Annie Murray’s work.
As far as food scenes in the book, there were a few where it was more about what all they could have available and the luxury of it all rather than what they actually ate. After the war was over it seemed almost decadent to have so much accessible to them.
So this is inspired by its simplicity but also the goodness of having a comforting, nourishing bowl of soup. Sometimes basic foods symbolize celebration, especially after deprivation.
Smoked Turkey Vegetable Soup
(I assure you, it’s coincidence this was the choice right after our Thanksgiving holiday!)