By Andrew Smith
In times of war, everything you take for granted about your life is transformed. The illusion of safety, faith in your country and the rules that govern it, normal routines of work, feeding and looking after your family, are all upset and new rules and routines need to be established in order to survive.
Set in England during the Second World War, Edith Maguire’s story is that of an ordinary young woman suddenly going through a time that is no longer ordinary. Her experience is like many others, and it gives us a very tiny glimpse into what happens in extreme circumstances. Multiply that by several thousands and we might get an idea of what war-time is like for the family and community the soldiers leave behind. War affects everyone. With their world turned upside down, people behave in ways that they normally would not, and they are forever changed by that.
Over the course of the novel, we discover some of Edith’s experiences during the war, and the consequences of her and others’ behaviour. Two distinct narratives tell her story, and by far the stronger of the two is that of Edith herself. We see her live through the war with her mother-in-law in the small town of Shrimpley, near Liverpool. Young, pregnant, with her husband away at war, estranged from her own family, we feel her loneliness and confusion. Appalled by her own country when Italian neighbours are taken away because of Britain’s internment policy, she is angry and disillusioned. Her story is alive with her struggle to survive and to make sense of a world that has become senseless. Interspersed throughout her story, are her sons’ reminiscences from today’s perspective. Awaiting her arrival in Venice, Will and Shamus spend the day wandering around the city, sightseeing, drinking coffee and bickering about everything, especially their family. As the two story-lines intersect, we get a more complete picture of Edith and her life since the war.
Edith’s War is one small snapshot of a time that is long gone but whose consequences live on. It is a powerful reminder of the fragility of our own world and what thin threads hold it together.