This memoir was born out of the difficult relationship Elisa had with her mother Anne. When Anne started suffering with dementia, probably caused by her alcohol abuse, Elisa was left with the task of clearing the former family home. In the attic she found a box, filled with notebooks; Anne’s diaries written from the age of fifteen.
Anne was the heir to her mother’s fortune which meant that she rubbed shoulders with the elite of England. The pre-war years are filled with travel, finishing schools and seemingly endless parties. The war years tell an entirely different story of a privileged young woman working as a WRAF, including a lengthy stint in intelligence and a posting at Bletchley Park. I found the diaries, especially those written during World War Two really interesting, as Anne documented her daily life as a WRAF, her satisfaction for feeling useful for the first, and only, time in her life. Elisa has cleverly selected enough to give a true sense of the young woman’s first experience of connecting to her colleagues, a very different experience from the cosseted world of her earlier years.
It takes some time though, to get to this part, the beginning starts with a seemingly endless litany of how difficult, indecisive and uncaring Elisa’s mother was. The abuse of alcohol, interesting never mentioned by either family or friends, the selfishness of her endless travels and some tragic losses, seen from Elisa’s perspective is the background which makes reading the young woman’s adventures far more poignant.
The power of this novel is the understanding it gave Elisa about who her mother really was, although at several points her interjections about her mother’s faults, led me to believe that perhaps the misunderstandings between this mother and daughter perhaps ran too deep ever to be truly healed.
I received a free copy of this memoir to read as part of the Lovereading Review Panel, ahead of the paperback release on 15 March 2014.