Goodnight from London
Ruby Sutton thought the call into her editor’s office would result in the termination of her employment; instead, she is offered the opportunity of a lifetime. She is to go to London and report from there on the European war. In the summer of 1940 there could be no sweeter assignment for an ambitious young American journalist.
While her trip to England is marred by seasickness Ruby is met on arrival by Captain Charles Bennett. Movie star handsome and kind besides, Bennett makes Ruby’s first night in London a memorable and delightful one. But work quickly pulls them in opposite directions: Ruby learns to navigate the man’s world of journalism while Bennett’s mysterious position at the Inter-Services Research Bureau keeps him away for long periods of time. Life in beleaguered England proves challenging with its rations, sexist coworkers and nightly bombing raids but Ruby soon finds herself drawn to the people, their joint struggles and their indefatigable spirits which keep them going through the worst of times. As she begins to make the first real friends of her life and starts to set down roots in this shaky new reality she realizes she has only one thing to fear: what happens when someone discovers the secrets that she’s carried from New York to London?
Goodnight from London is a women’s fiction novel with strong romantic elements set in one of the most interesting periods of recent history. AAR staffers Maggie, Shannon and Keira were all eager to read it and are enthusiastic about sharing their thoughts regarding the book.
MB: I’d read Ms. Robson’s first book Somewhere in France and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was really excited to read this story, especially with its dramatic setting of London during World War Two. What drew you to the story? Were you familiar with Ms. Robson’s work?
SD: Jennifer Robson has been on my radar for some time now. I’d heard great things from people whose reading tastes are very similar to my own, so I was eager to give her work a try. I love books set during the Second World War, so Goodnight From London seemed like a great place for me to start.
KS: This was my first book by Ms. Robson and I’m already looking forward to her next. After having recently read Rhys Bowen’s In Farleigh Field, I find myself fascinated by accounts of life in England during the Second World War, so Goodnight from London was perfect for me.
MB: The characters in the story fit well into the time period but at the same time seemed relatable and likable. I especially appreciated Ruby, who balanced nicely as someone who belonged in her era but was also very forward thinking. What were your thoughts on the characters?
SD: I was able to relate to almost all of the characters. Ruby was such a delightful heroine. She had a strong work-ethic and a kind-hearted nature. The supporting characters were so wonderful, just the kind of people I can imagine myself warming up to in real life. The only character I struggled with was Ruby’s antagonist. I don’t want to spoil things by giving away too much about him, but his motivations for hating Ruby seemed weak and came out of left field, but not in a good, twisty way. It felt a little bit like the author needed to pick someone, and just sort of chose him at random and crafted a thin veneer to explain his actions to her readers.
KS: I really liked Ruby’s positive attitude and her alertly intelligent outlook on life. She’s compassionate, appreciative of the opportunities she has in life, and very hard working. Ms. Robson has crafted great characters, including the secondary ones, while keeping them firmly rooted to the sensibilities of their era.
MB: One aspect of this novel that I found outstanding was its look at journalism. So often you read a story and the career of the hero or heroine is clearly just filler. Here I thought the author completely nailed it. Was there anything about the book you found especially well done?
SD: You make a great point about Ruby’s profession being so much more than filler, Maggie. Ms. Robson did such a great job making the journalism a true part of the story. I also loved the way she wrote relationships, especially those between Ruby and her friends. She really captured Ruby’s journey to create a family group of her own that wasn’t based on blood but on choice. Ruby truly embraced war-torn London, and, in a strange way, found it safe and homey despite the constant threats to life and limb. Ms. Robson made all of this seem so fluid and natural.
KS: I find stories in which characters have meaningful, fulfilling jobs very attractive. And in Goodnight in London, Ms. Robson has done an excellent exploration of journalism as it was practiced in England in the 1940s. The dangers, the daring, and the finessing of interviewing are superbly depicted. But I also appreciated that while journalism was deeply important to Ruby and her editor, Kaz, they had lives and concerns that were beyond it; they were complex individuals. And the same goes for Ruby’s love interest, Bennett.
MB: I loved Bennett and Ruby’s romance and thought the author captured the feel of a wartime love affair fairly well. I could have used a bit more together time for them but given the events of the era, I felt she gave them a realistic love story. Did the romance work for you?
SD: Unfortunately, the romance is the one area of the novel that really didn’t work for me. Bennett and Ruby didn’t spend enough time together to give me a real sense of their developing feelings for one another. True, circumstances did keep them apart quite a bit, but I really struggled to see them as a couple who truly loved each other and were ready and willing to spend the rest of their lives together. Luckily, the romance wasn’t the novel’s central plot, and Ms. Robson gave me plenty of other things to enjoy.
KS: The delicacy with which Ms. Robson explored the burgeoning love between Ruby and Bennett felt very true to the time period. Bennett’s dangerous and secretive job kept them apart for months at a time, but every time they met, they connected in ways that seemed to be cohesive with their characters. I was thankful that there weren’t melodramatic tear-filled emotional scenes between them – they felt deeply for each other, but were cognizant of the wartime atmosphere and moved through their daily living with loyalty and patience.
MB: I prefer mysteries that are subtly handled and I thought Ruby’s big secret was handled precisely the way it should be. I especially appreciated that for a long portion of the novel – as London was being bombed and the war was going so badly for the Allies – it was completely placed on the backburner and essentially forgotten about. I felt people would definitely respond that way to living through a crisis. What did you think of the mystery?
SD: You know, there was a period of time when I honestly forgot about the mystery. Ruby’s past is alluded to several times, but the story of her present circumstances totally stole my focus, and I loved that so much. Ruby’s past was a part of who she was, but it didn’t define her as a person, especially during a time of crisis.
KS: As far as the antagonist sub-plot goes, that whole thing came out of the left field for me as well, despite the hints that Ms. Robson dropped from time to time. It felt imposed upon the story to achieve a certain direction to the plot and emotionally manipulative of the characters, rather than being organic to the narrative. It was mercifully short, and the story stayed focused on Ruby’s wartime London experience, for which I was thankful.
MB: Overall, the book is a solid B+ for me; not perfect but completely engaging and enjoyable. What grade would you give it?
SD: I would give it a B. Despite its few flaws, I’m really glad I read it, and I definitely plan to read more of Ms. Robson’s work in the very near future.
KS: It’s a solid B+ for me as well, and in fact, it would’ve been an A- for me without the sub-plot. I’m looking forward to Ms. Robson’s next book.