Archive for the ‘Jean Saunders’ Category

The Bannister GirlsHow to review a book that skirts the line between being a ”good bad” book and simply a “bad bad” book?  Most of my reading falls into the good bad category: books that are not going to win prizes for their experimental structure or complex themes but which, as Orwell wrote, remain “readable when more serious productions have perished.”  The Bannister Girls by Jean Saunders, originally published in 1991 and recently reissued as an e-book by Bloomsbury Reader, aspires to be a good bad book; it doesn’t quite get there but it is a fun, more than slightly soapy historical romance.

Set during the First World War, The Bannister Girls follows the members of the Bannister family from 1915 to 1918, focusing in particular on Angel, the youngest daughter.  The novel opens with Angel meeting a young French pilot currently on leave in London.  Within a few hours, she has abandoned the rigid social rules her mother tried so hard to instil in her three daughters, finding herself with him first at a nightclub and then at a hotel.  Their relationship builds from that day forward and is a dominant feature of the story…which would have been more enjoyable if either Angel or Jacques had been remotely interesting.  Angel becomes a far more interesting person when she’s interacting with her sisters (though, since she spends most of the war nursing in France, that’s rare) or with her father.

The eldest sister, Louise, is largely absent from the story, with other characters providing updates on her life while the middle sister, Ellen, is still seen all too rarely for my tastes.  Ellen is a passionate and idealistic young woman, attracted to controversial social issues: she begins the book as a vocal supporter of women’s rights and, after a German shopkeeper is murdered in the village near the Bannister’s country home, begins advocating for the rights of foreign-born residents.  But before too long, the war does intrude on her causes and she takes up work at one of the neighbouring farms, becoming even closer friends with the farmer there, having initially befriended him while protesting.  Unlike Angel, Ellen’s love life is actually interesting: she makes a bit of a muddle of her relationship with her farmer and her embarrassment at having confused attraction and love felt more real than most of the emotions in this book.  Her struggles are less dramatic than Angel’s but more impactful for that reason.

While I would have preferred more of a focus on Ellen and cheered if any attention at all had been given to Louise, I must say that Saunders does do an excellent job of describing the hospital and nursing conditions in France, where Angel spends most of the novel working.  This partially makes up for the general flatness of the characters and the ridiculously overdramatic twists in Angel and Jacques’ love story.  For all my complaining, I did have fun reading this.  I may not remember it a month from now, but I also couldn’t put it down when I was reading.

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