This is the first book I’ve read by Lissa Evans and it most certainly won’t be the last one. In this story we focus on several characters, some of which are unlikable at first. They are out to scam a living but there is some justice woven in, enough to make you change your mind about a couple disreputable characters.
The beginning of the book is set in London. Noel is a very intelligent 10-year-old orphan who is living quite happily with his godmother Mattie. She is his legal guardian, an Oxford educated woman and suffragette. She doesn’t take kindly to being told what to do but she is tender and protective of Noel. You learn immediately in the first chapter that Mattie is slowly succumbing to dementia. Noel is concerned about the changes in Mattie, the fact that she can’t find the correct words. Soon the children are ordered to evacuate the city as London is being bombed. Noel doesn’t wish to leave Mattie and continues on with his schooling at home.
I love the imagery in this book, such descriptive prose. Here is a passage that captures the scene and shows off Noel’s well educated character.
“The day after that, all the children disappeared, as if London had shrugged and all the small people had fallen off the edge. Noel, running an errand, was stared at in the street. The baker asked why he hadn’t gone with the others. ‘I think you’ll find the evacuation is not compulsory,’ replied Noel loftily. It was what Mattie had said to an interfering neighbor. ”
Eventually Mattie gets worse and no longer takes care of Noel or herself. He places signs on items so Mattie will know the words such as Oven or Sweater on the correct objects. He also learns to cook.
“The days became untethered. Mealtimes slid around or disappeared altogether. Noel ate biscuits for three days, and then found a cookery book. The recipes were wonderfully satisfying; it was like doing an equation I which the correct answer was edible.”
After he is finally evacuated to the countryside he ends up with Vera Sedge. Vee, as she calls herself, sees the wardens walking the evacuees around looking for a foster home and jumps on the chance to grab Noel. Not because she wants to do her part or she has a fondness for children. No, she sees Noel as a chance to gain some money and get his ration book. While she sounds like a reprehensible person, what she is doing is trying to keep her family fed. She is solely responsible for taking care of her mute mother and teenaged son, one with a heart murmur and thus cannot volunteer as a soldier.
You read about the rationing, the bombing of London and despite these horrendous conditions, you see it bring out the very best and worst in certain people. Vee and Noel become close and desite the differences in their education, they make a mighty good team. The interactions between them is great. Loved this book in spite of some sadness.