When author Nicola Cornick agreed to review Jean Fullerton’s latest novel, A Ration Book Childhood, she had no idea that her first taste of these World War II East End books would end up with her paying it the ultimate compliment… buying the rest of the series.
A Ration Book Childhood is a richly-textured and engrossing novel set during the Second World War Blitz. It is book three in the Ration Book series by Jean Fullerton, which tells the story of the Brogan family of London’s East End as they struggle to survive the challenges posed by rationing, nightly bombing raids and the emotional strain of divided loyalties. Although the book is part of an ongoing series, it works perfectly as a stand-alone novel.
Ida Brogan is the matriarch, holding together an extended family and a household that also features her fierce and eccentric mother-in-law Queenie, her charming and resourceful husband Jeremiah, and their brood of children and grandchildren.
The return to the East End of an old schoolfriend of Ida’s, Ellen Gilbert, throws Ida’s world into further chaos when it is revealed that Ellen is terminally ill and needs Ida’s help. Old secrets are revealed that threaten the foundation of the Brogan family and provide Ida with a desperate dilemma.
A Ration Book Childhood is a very enjoyable read. Jean Fullerton’s meticulous research and background knowledge enable her to create a wholly convincing and engaging wartime novel.
The vivid scene-setting takes the reader deep into the experience of London during the Blitz both in terms of the sights, sounds and smells of the era but also into the hearts and minds of the people when confronted with the terrifying realities of war.
The book is unsentimental in its presentation of the harsher side of war – the black market, the crime, the poverty and the rough-and-ready violence sometimes directed against people on the streets.
Yet it isn’t a bleak book; the strength and grit and sense of community that unites people is also vividly shown and acts as a counterbalance to the darker elements.
The characters in particular are wonderful, especially Queenie, who reads the tea leaves, sells horse-racing tips and has some great lines. Ida is a strong and sympathetic heroine and her struggle to deal with the impossible choices she has to make is heartfelt and thought-provoking. The other characters, too, are richly drawn and their interactions weave a marvellous story of family relationships within the broader framework of a wartime world.
There are so many layers to this book that it is completely immersive. With humour to lighten the mood as well it can be laugh-out-loud funny as well as deeply poignant, but it is the emotional richness and heart to the book that draws the story together and makes this such a rewarding read. I went straight out and ordered the other books in the series.
Read Jean’s funny and challenging Historia feature Sagas: they’re not all trouble at t’mill.
She is the current chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.
Her most recent book, The Woman in the Lake, was published in March, 2019.
Nicola’s next novel, The Forgotten Sister, will be out on 30 April, 2020. She’ll be talking to Historia about her books and her writing life in a few weeks.