The Light Over London
Fans of stories centered around the Second World War won’t want to miss Julia Kelly’s The Light Over London. It’s a dual timeline novel that tells the story of two women living years apart, each struggling with questions of love and self-worth, and I’m so glad I got a chance to read it.
Cara Hargraves is struggling to get back on her feet after a nasty divorce. She’s found a job working for a local antiques appraiser, a job that allows her to lose herself in the past rather than looking forward to the future. Some people might find such work depressing, but Cara enjoys poking through old houses in search of hidden treasure, some of which might be of monetary worth. It takes her mind off her own unhappiness, and who wouldn’t be in favor of that?
While on the job, Cara discovers a diary written by an unknown woman who appears to have served in some branch of the military during World War II. At first, she’s only casually interested in the woman’s story, but once she begins to read the diary in earnest, she knows she has to find out the identity of its writer.
In 1941, nineteen-year-old Louise Keene is living in a small village in Cornwall. The man everyone assumes she’ll marry one day is fighting in the war, and Louise is at a loose end. Other girls might be content to sit home and wait for their sweethearts to return, but that’s not enough for Louise. When she meets Lieutenant Paul Bolton, a pilot in the RAF, she begins to feel things she never felt for her wealthy but distant suitor. Suddenly, Louise begins dreaming of a new life, one filled with all the passion and adventure she’s read about in novels.
When Paul’s unit is deployed to an undisclosed location, Louise knows she must take action, and so she joins the women’s branch of the RAF in an attempt to feel closer to Paul. Soon, she’s one of an elite group of women known as the Gunner Girls, who are responsible for identifying enemy planes during air raids. It’s a dangerous job to be sure, but Louise wouldn’t trade the sense of purpose it gives her for anything, and whenever things get hard, she reminds herself that someday soon, she and Paul will be together forever. But when many of her letters to Paul go unanswered, Louise begins to fear for the man she loves.
The story shifts back and forth in time and perspective, allowing the reader to get to know both Cara and Louise. I initially found Louise’s portions of the novel to be the most compelling, but as I continued reading, I discovered that Cara’s story contained some lovely surprises. I loved the slow burn romance between her and Liam, and the relationship between Cara and her grandmother is a true joy to behold. Louise’s chapters are definitely the most exciting parts of the novel, but I was not at all bored when the focus shifted to Cara.
Both Cara and Louise are wonderfully resilient heroines who are unwilling to let their circumstances get the best of them. I was especially drawn to Cara’s quiet strength. She faces a lot of inner turmoil, but she manages to come out of it with a wisdom and sensitivity I don’t often see in contemporary characters. She’s far from perfect, but she learns from her missteps and doesn’t continue making the same mistakes over and over again. By contrast, Louise is more flamboyant. She’s determined to thrive in what is obviously a man’s world, and the strife she endures is heartbreaking at times, but I never doubted her ability to come out on top.
My one major complaint has to do with a subplot involving Cara’s grandmother. It’s clear pretty early on that she has a secret, something that somehow connects her to Louise’s diary. Cara really wants to know what her grandmother is hiding, but the older woman refuses to enlighten her until close to the end of the story. The secret is pretty huge, but parts of it didn’t make sense to me. The details are quite sketchy, and part of me wonders if the author might not have thought through this portion of the story as clearly as she needed to.
The Light Over London is a solidly enjoyable story that’s sure to appeal to fans of books like Secrets of a Charmed Life and The Nightingale. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more of her work in the future.