Following Marking Time and The Light Years, this book covers the last year or so of WW2, ending as the VE day celebrations take place. In contrast to the somewhat listless background of the previous book, there seems here to be a lot going on. I think this is partly due to the way people have become accustomed to living through the war, and are trying to make the best of it, and partly because the end of the war seems to be in sight, which forces them to confront what will happen after it has finished. In any case, when I started to make a list of major events, it got pretty long.
While we've heard previously about Edward's extra-marital activities, in this book it's the women's turn, and at least four of the wives have affairs of one sort or another (five if you count Sid). Put like this it sounds a bit far-fetched, but they are all completely plausible and moving in their own way, and fit into the overall pattern of the story without feeling at all out of place.
I think this may be the best book in the series so far, and that's saying something. There were some fantastic set pieces, including Polly's declaration to Archie, Louise's loss of Hugo, and most memorably the scene where Louise gave birth: the way the nurses treated her had my jaw dropping. Louise has a pretty bad time in this book all through, with her husband and in-laws turning out to be dreadful, and her apparent chance of happiness with Hugo being painfully destroyed: I do hope she fairs better in the final book.
Again, the author puts as much care into the minor characters as anyone else: the story of Polly's cousin Nora's marriage to a paraplegic ex-soldier was beautifully realised, as was the episode of Sid's holiday with her besotted pupil.
It is very difficult not to feel for the people in the book. Unlike David Lodge, this is an author who seems to care, and want you to care, for her characters. I have the next book ready to go but feel upset already that it's the only one left to read; it will be hard to say goodbye to them.
Re-read in 2018. This time, I noted:
Completed : 14-Feb-2004 (audiobook)
Completed : 07-May-2018 (audiobook)