Joan Bakewell’s debut novel has lingered on my TBR for quite some time. I have always liked Joan Bakewell when I have heard her on the radio or seen her on the telly, in the UK she is well known as a journalist and broadcaster, and I had a strange notion that I would therefore like whatever she wrote. For some strange reason though I didn’t read Joan’s debut novel ‘All The Nice Girls’ though and as it was languishing I passed it onto Granny Savidge Reads as I thought she would like it and if I fancied reading it at any point I could pinch it back. Well as I am ‘in conversation’ with her next Thursday evening I decided the time was definitely right to read it, but would I like it?
‘All The Nice Girls’ is set in part during 1942 when WWII is not going well for the British. As part of the war effort an all girl’s grammar school in Stockport becomes one of the many that decide to sign up for the Merchant Navy’s Ship Adoption Scheme. The idea, as headmistress Cynthia Maitland sees it (who was bereaved in the previous war)is to make ‘her girls’ aware of what is going on in the world out there and of course to do there bit. The reality is a little bit different as this is, of course, is going to mix a group of young girls, all excitement and hormones, with a group of sailors.
Now with the premise of a group of young girls in the war, and Joan focuses on sixth formers Polly (also called Margaret) and Jen, you kind of know what is on the horizon – both the good and the bad. This is where Joan Bakewell throws in another thread into it all with a story set in 2003 where we find Millie, whose daughter is suffering from kidney failure to which Millie is debating helping with or not, has been left her mothers belongings. I won’t say more as the reader is left wondering how the two are entwined and I don’t want to spoil anything.
I have to admit I struggled with this novel to start with. I didn’t feel I could keep up as Bakewell introduces several school girls, teachers and then an endless cast of officers etc in 1942 before then switching to 2003 when your still just grasping the past, however the ‘voice’ she writes with carried me on.
I think it is Bakewell’s storytelling (and this is a proper war story) rather than just the era that left me in mind of the authors of both the 1930s and the 1960s. I am aware that this might sound rather odd but that’s the flavour that the book and indeed Bakewell left me with. It wasn’t the narratives of the characters, which added to the experience as all characters and everything they go through are all vividly drawn, it was Bakewells writing voice and sounded very different from the one she broadcasts with. Both are charming.
My only slight issue with All the Nice Girls is that whilst I liked hearing a very different side to the war effort of WWII, which this undoubtedly is, I found the book a little predictable. I could sort of see where each relationship was headed and what might be coming around. That said there was something rather reassuring spending time with a book like that.
If you are a fan of books set during WWII and want a different take on it, and one based on fact as Bakewell herself went to a school in Stockport that sponsored a boat during that period, and has the atmosphere or are a fan of Bakewells already you will love this book, as would you if you want to get lost in a book you know where you are with. I enjoyed myself as I read and found some of it very poignant indeed.
If you are in Manchester on Thursday and fancy something a bit different, or want to come and talk about this or any of Joan Bakewell’s other books, the I will be ‘in conversation’ with her at 7pm at Waterstones Deansgate, do pop by. Sorry for the mini plug but I would love to see some of you there, have you any questions for Joan if you can’t make it? Have you read ‘All The Nice Girls’ or any of her other books and if so what did you think?