The Penny Bangle
I picked up The Penny Bangle because a World War II fix sounded like just the thing. I hadn’t read a book set in that time period in some time, and WWII romances are somewhat thin on the ground. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite the fix I was hoping for. Who knew WWII could be so dull?
Cassie Taylor reluctantly leaves her Birmingham home and munitions factory job to become a land girl in Dorset in 1942, and she’s somewhat “generous” in her description of her farm experience; she knows almost nothing. Her lack of experience is pretty obvious to the Denham family; she botches her first attempt at milking a cow, and has a near miss when she gets too close to a bull. The family consists of of Rose Denham, her invalid husband, and their twin sons, Robert and Stephen. Both were injured at Dunkirk but are about to rejoin the war effort.
At first, Robert is not inclined to give Cassie a chance. He thinks she’s weak and useless, and tells her so. Stephen is friendlier, but many of his problems seem to be psychological, and he takes unpredictable “turns”. Cassie also shares her workload with Fran, a pretty local girl who sometimes gives her a hard time. Eventually Robert changes his tune and decides Cassie is hot rather than scrawny. They start stealing kisses when they get the chance. Eventually, Robert and Stephen are both called back up. Cassie and Fran are bored with the land girl life, so they join the ATS.
Cassie is originally posted in England. She aces all the driving and motor maintenance courses and is soon driving important men all over. This affords her the opportunity to meet Robert’s rich actress sister Daisy in London. When Robert is transferred to Africa, Cassie applies for a transfer as well. They get serious in Africa, making love for the first time and getting engaged. But Robert is bound for Italy and is soon in danger. Then Stephen comes onto her, suggesting that she transfer her affections. Can Cassie keep her hope alive?
In theory, this sounds kind of interesting. In reality, I kept reading along, periodically asking myself when WWII had gotten so boring. People were getting shot at and dying, for the love of God, and it was all I could do to care about any of them.
I think the problem is that the story is told almost entirely from Cassie’s point of view, and Cassie, try as she might, is completely uninteresting. The conflicts for her are about class, faith, and religion – and though these are all important conflicts raising serious questions, somehow none of it is compelling where she’s concerned. She has an inferiority complex where Robert and the other Denhams are concerned, and there’s an endless refrain of “You’re a nob/toff/whatever and I’m from the slums of Birmingham.” My problem was not that Cassie was from Birmingham – it was that she was a boring girl from Birmingham. She drives people around and gets in fights with other girls who don’t believe that a toff like Rob wants anything more then sex out of her. She has some religious turmoil (mostly because she was raised by a fanatically Catholic grandmother), but I can’t really say that the religious angle is any more intriguing either. Everything is on the surface with Cassie.
We do see another side of Robert when he is injured behind enemy lines and starts working with Italian rebels. But like nearly every other plot point in this book, it’s not as exciting as it sounds. His actions lead to an argument with Cassie at the end of the war – an argument that goes on forever and made me like both of them less than I already did.
The one bright spot for me was that after reading The Penny Bangle, I blogged about World War II romances</a href>. I got lots of suggestions, all of which are likely better than this book. If you are looking for a romance (or fiction) with a WWII setting, I recommend checking out some of those and giving The Penny Bangle a pass.