Book Review for “The English Wife” by Adrienne Chinn.
Summary: “VE Day 1945: As victory bells ring out across the country, war bride Ellie Burgess’ happiness is overshadowed by grief. Her charismatic Newfoundlander husband Thomas is still missing in action. Until a letter arrives explaining Thomas is back at home on the other side of the Atlantic recovering from his injuries. Travelling to a distant country to live with a man she barely knows is the bravest thing Ellie has ever had to do. But nothing can prepare her for the harsh realities of her new home… September 11th 2001: Sophie Parry is on a plane to New York on the most tragic day in the city’s history. While the world watches the news in horror, Sophie’s flight is rerouted to a tiny town in Newfoundland and she is forced to seek refuge with her estranged aunt Ellie. Determined to discover what it was that forced her family apart all those years ago, newfound secrets may change her life forever….”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary Fiction – Romance, Women; Settings: Historical, Contemporary, Newfoundland, Norwich, England; Other Categories: Novel, Family Saga, Coming of Age.
First of all, I want to explain the title of this review. See, in Newfoundland, when tourists come, they call them CFAs – meaning that they “come from away.” Now, a few years ago I went to see the musical “Come from Away” which is about 9/11 and what happened when a whole bunch of airplanes on their way to New York were diverted to Newfoundland because of the terror attack. This is THE most amazing musical, and if you ever get a chance to see it, you MUST (well, I think you should). I’ve seen hundreds of musicals throughout my life and this one? This one is now my #1 favorite musical of ALL TIME. Granted, I cried from start to finish (and I’m tearing up just writing about it), but as they say OMG! Anyway, one section of this novel includes one person – Sophie, one of our two main protagonists – who ends up in Newfoundland on 9/11. Sophie knows she has an aunt living there, who she’s never met, and that is Ellie – our other main protagonist. So, as long as Sophie’s stuck on “the rock” as they call it, she decides to look Ellie up!
So, I’ll confess that yes, I started crying like a baby when I read the initial 9/11 sections, and I was certain that this was going to be an emotional rollercoaster for me. However, the parts about the CFAs being helped by the locals ended up being a very small part of the novel. The larger parts were how Ellie got from Norfolk to Newfoundland, and Sophie’s two visits – the accidental one on 9/11 and then the deliberate one ten years later. Regarding the former, it is all about the love story between Ellie and the Newfoundlander soldier Thomas, who was stationed in Norfolk during WWII. This means, of course, that we have multiple timelines in this novel, but I think that Chinn did a very nice job in balancing the two, and showing how each of them were necessary for the overall story.
After the emotional parts were finished (too soon, if you ask me, but no matter), I have to say that what I liked the best about this book was how Chinn developed these two female characters. Both of them were highly independent, and talented people, driven by their own singular motivations regarding how they wanted to live their lives, even if that upset or angered others. During the war, Ellie quits art school to work with the fire brigade as part of the war effort. Later, in Newfoundland, Ellie makes her way using her art, sheer tenacity, and with a little help (sometimes too little) from her community and friends. Sophie is a workaholic architect, getting close to her dream of becoming a full partner in a prestigious firm, climbing the ladder with both her talent and her assertive personality. We come to love and admire both of these women. Furthermore, Chinn’s wide cast of lesser characters are both believable and unique – some of which we love, some we hate, and others we laugh at or pity. They’re all honest and alive, and Chinn makes sure that we know where each of them fits into her story.
The truth is, that while all this is fantastic, this really is a love story – or two love stories, to be precise. The fact that Chinn was able to make the lives of these two women about more than just romance is fully to Chinn’s credit. Otherwise, I might have given up on this novel, to be honest. I think my regular readers know full well that I cannot abide a woman whose whole purpose in life is to find a husband she can swoon over. While both Ellie and Sophie do end up with some ardor as well as a touch of angst, they’re more than just their relationships, which I truly appreciated. However, I’m not sure I totally appreciated the unusual, and only partially surprising, ending to this story (sorry, no spoilers). I’m also sorry there wasn’t more about the events of 9/11, which were the parts that truly touched my heart. This is why I think this novel is really very good, with believable and sympathetic characters, an interesting plot, and it is beautifully written. It is a touch too romantic for my taste, but it still deserves my warm recommendation with a solid four out of five stars.
One More Chapter released “The English Wife” by Adrienne Chinn on February 16, 2021. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmith, Foyles, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.