This book is billed as a memoir of love and loss with the synopsis based around an incident as viewed by the eight year old Alison on the eve of the family’s departure for New Zealand.
So what is the book about? Well it is definitely a book of two halves, the first which covers Molly’s, Alison’s mother, surviving documents from the early part of the Second World War. The family were travelling for Molly’s father’s work in various outposts of Bletchley Park cracking codes in Asia. Through Molly’s letters, mainly those to family friend Steve, and a ship’s log given to her to record an early voyage at this time, we get plenty of information about the people they met, the kind of life they led and some snippets of the context of the world at that time, but sadly not enough. Molly I suspect was a typical teenage girl of her time. Longing to be grown up, maybe especially in Steve’s eyes, but betraying her age with the everyday events of friends lost and found, shopping trips when the ship called at port and tales of parties attended and school exams. The loss of detail about the surrounding world, the real sense of danger the family sometimes found themselves in is not necessarily telling of Molly’s natural introspection, but a by-product of the censorship operating. To be honest the news of other families soon wore thin and this part could have done with more editing and some context for those not familiar with the war being fought in these far-flung parts of the world.
In the second half of the book we hear far more from Alison who details the downward spiral of her parents just when she was going away to college. Here we had the opportunity to see how life had turned out for the optimistic Molly after she had trained as a midwife. From my point of view these chapters were far more interesting although perhaps Alison is still too worried about family members reading this poignant memoir as the episodes are littered with excuses for the behaviour of both parents to a degree that became intrusive to the narrative. That isn’t to say the sadness of the tale being told was completely lost, it wasn’t, and the everyday struggles of making a life far from their family albeit one that was built on an itinerant background were expertly revealed.
An interesting read but I felt that this could have been far better presented, especially in the first half which revolved around various sea voyages and staying in unsuitable lodgings with far too little money. Molly’s tale is worth hearing and it was interesting to understand a little of the pressure on the code-crackers, no matter where they were posted, something I had been unaware of until I read this memoir.
I’d like to thank the publishers Lambert Nagle Media who allowed me to read a proof copy of this book in return for this honest opinion. Castles in the Air was published on 25 November 2015.