Sunday, August 29, 2021

The Light Over London by Julia Kelly - a dual timeline novel set during WWII

Title: The Light Over London
Author: Julia Kelly
Publication: Gallery Books, trade paperback, 2019
Genre: Historical fiction (mostly)
Setting: WWII and present-day Great Britain
Description: This dual timeline novel begins in 2017 in the Cotswolds as Cara Hargraves, not only newly and painfully divorced but also having recently lost both parents, has taken a job with an antique dealer. As she and her boss assess the estate of an elderly lady, Cara finds a hidden diary from World War II in a dusty armoire. Reading it, she is captivated by serious Louise, who served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), the women's branch of the British Army during the war like Cara’s very much alive and outspoken grandmother. Louise fell in love with an RAF pilot who was stationed near her hometown in Cornwall. With the help of her new neighbor, Liam, a history professor, Cara researches Kate’s story, hoping it will help persuade her grandmother to reveal a long-kept mystery about her war experience, not realizing this historical treasure hunt will actually help Cara break free of the past. The story alternates between present-day Cara and World War II Louise.

My Impression: I am always fascinated by women in war, so to me, the most interesting part of this book was the description of Louise Keene and her cousin Kate, who enlist in the ATS and do their training in Leicester and near the Welsh border in 1941. They live in a barracks with other women and take exams that will determine their assignment. Kate becomes a telephone operator while Louise receives special training on anti-aircraft machinery for the Royal Artillery. Louise’s RAF pilot is not supportive of her work which is our first clue that he is not your typical WWII hero, but Louise is ambitious not only about her war work but about her future.

Cara, the present-day protagonist, is less interesting than Louise and seemed very passive and mopey, and while she regains her self-confidence as the book proceeds, it is her friend Nicole and attractive, easy-going Liam next door who deserve most of the credit for her improvement. On the other hand, while it is true that her preoccupation with the past has allowed her to escape the present, her interest in Louise is essential to the plot, as she and Liam use what they can glean from the diary to learn more about Louise's war service life. Overall, while a pleasant read, the book is not as deep or rich as that of others in the genre written by Susanna Kearsley (my favorite) or Kate Morton.  
This is number 14 of my 20 Books of Summer.  Great cover, don't you think? It is also my twentieth book in the 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader
Source: Personal copy; a Christmas present in 2019.  


Lark said...

Do you ever get tired of dual timeline historical fiction novels? Or is it just me?

CLM said...

Good point! I only get tired of them when I encounter a weak one! But it does happen! Same with WWII historical fiction, although I do from time to time need what some would call a palate cleanser.

Ruthiella said...

I'm not much of a fan of dual timelines because I find typically I start to prefer one over the other, you know? And then am annoyed when the less-liked time period pops up. I find I have the same issue with books with multiple narrators (like Game of Thrones).

Davida Chazan (The Chocolate Lady) said...

I'm with Lark here... this sounds to me like the present-day bit was unnecessary since the meat of the story was the WWII parts.

Cath said...

In the hands of good writers these dual timeline stories are excellent. I do find the constant switching takes me out of the story and as someone else has said, I end up preferring one over the other and resenting the changeovers!