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Editorial Reviews

"A cracker." ( Stylist, 10 Exciting Books in 2016)
"His best book to date." ( Esquire, 10 best novels of 2016)

Publisher's Summary

The breathtaking new novel from the multiaward-winning author of The Other Hand.

When war is declared, Mary North leaves finishing school unfinished, goes straight to the War Office, and signs up.

Tom Shaw decides to give it a miss - until his flatmate, Alistair, unexpectedly enlists, and the conflict can no longer be avoided.

Young, bright and brave, Mary is certain she'd be a marvelous spy. When she is - bewilderingly - made a teacher, she instead finds herself defying prejudice to protect the children her country would rather forget.

Tom, meanwhile, finds that he will do anything for Mary. And when Mary and Alistair meet, it is love as well as war that will test them in ways they could not have imagined, entangling three lives in violence and passion, friendship and deception, inexorably shaping their hopes and dreams.

In a powerful combination of both humour and heartbreak, this dazzling novel weaves little-known history and a perfect love story through the vast sweep of the Second World War - daring us to understand that against the great theatre of world events, it is the intimate losses, the small battles, the daily human triumphs that change us most.

©2016 Chris Cleave (P)2016 Hodder & Stoughton

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Black Mary
  • 06-10-16

An astonishing blend of laughter and pain.

This book took me completely by surprise. I listened to the first few chapters several times and It still made me laugh out loud with delight.
As the war progresses and the confidence and certainty of the main characters begins to disintegrate, the brilliant colours of the opening chapters darken and fade. The humour, which is always present, becomes bleaker and sharper.
I love the fact that Tom's jar of Blackberry jam takes on the significance of preserving colour and ultimately, redemption.
The narration was extraordinary. It was hard to believe there was only one narrator, so skilfully did Luke Thompson inhabit the different characters.
I cannot recommend this audible book enough.

55 of 59 people found this review helpful

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  • Amanda
  • 04-14-17

A different view of the second world war

This book looks at the second world war from a different perspective, that of a teacher whose school consists of children that could not be evacuated. It touches on racism in the 1940s, attitudes to disability and the class structure , love and the effect that war has on those who have to fight it. It also points out that not every village wanted evacuee children and shows how they might have been treated, a topic not often brought to light. Easy to listen to but also thought provoking

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Lorrie
  • 06-14-18

Wow

What a fabulous story and talented story teller. A snapshot of class difference and London at war.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • sarahmoose2000
  • 11-12-16

Eye Opener

I never really appreciated how horrendous WWII was, I studied it at school like most people did but the range of emotions this book brought out it me was huge.

I felt the fear that Alasdair did when in Dunkirk and the trenches and anger at the silly, immature girls wanting to go and view the bombing sites as they thought it was exciting instead of being sorry at the great loss of the residents, and then a part of the evacuation process that I was unaware of, the almost racist aspect to it. Coloured children and the mentally and physically disabled were left behind in the cities when the able bodied kids were evacuated to the country. So many emotions will provoke you here, I really recommend it.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • April Axton
  • 07-18-18

Very offensive regarding black people.

Mary is a spoilt, self-centred, immature little rich girl who appears to live on cigarettes and is addicted to morphine. Her friend Hilda is pathetic and spiteful.
The author appeared to enjoy constantly referring to the black children as niggers, I realise ignorant people did in those days but once would have been sufficient to get the message .

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  • Sarah Webb
  • 07-04-18

Great Book, Desperately Sad

Narrated brilliantly, Luke Thompson brings all the characters to life in such a beautiful way, from Zachary's American childish twang to Mary's middle class mother.

The story itself is at times difficult to follow, and I found myself rewinding the book a bit. However it was so beautifully written I didn't care that I had listened to the same chapter several times over! I learnt a lot about the war itself and it really brought the entire ordeal alive for me through the characters. I cried at various points throughout the book and laughed out loud.

A truly wonderful book. A definite recommendation.

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  • Nicky p
  • 06-21-18

Not for me

This is a very bleak story that takes far too long over each scene and has unnecessarily complicated language. The narration of female voices is like something from The Importance of being Earnest. The tales of WW2 attitudes to black people are shocking and the love story is a challenge to believe.

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  • Aisling O'Donnell
  • 03-21-18

Great read

thoroughly enjoyed this book, also very witty and kept me engrossed through out, great narration too

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  • Mr Gavin Gillam
  • 05-31-17

An 'every day persons' view of the war

This was an enjoyable read. Makes you consider how people's every day lives were affected in war time. How people were swept along with things beyond their control.

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  • Sam Hall
  • 05-09-17

Wonderfully sad and yet uplifting story

Very, very much enjoyed this book. Beautifully crafted and expertly narrated. A truly fabulous find.

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  • Gayle Mason
  • 06-23-17

Stunning

I simply loved this book. Beautifully evocative. I fell in love with the characters.
Treat yourself and read this book.

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  • Fiona O'Connell
  • 12-31-16

One of the best!

A wonderful story very well written. Both humorous and heartbreaking with outstanding narration by Luke Thompson.

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  • Bisccuits2
  • 07-31-16

Really enjoyed it

A good story with the right narrator. I enjoyed and am to read the book now. Got lots of knitting done.

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  • Christopher
  • 07-17-16

Wonderful word craftsmanship!

Superbly built characters. Clean, precision prose a skilful immersion of the fourth protagonist into war torn London. Best since The Dressmaker.
Thank you and congratulations Chris

Chris Richards
Canberra, Australia





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  • frlhughes
  • 07-09-16

Wonderful story, brilliantly read

A rich and thought provoking story and the narration was truly outstanding. I highly recommend.

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  • Jane
  • 05-28-16

A story of great beauty

I couldn't stop listening...beautifully narrated .. I thought that the story brought a great depth of the human condition from a time where society had no words of a deep experience and left so much between the lines...the war changed so many.. as a post war ex-Londoner I found the story moving