The Second World War is the basis for a whole raft of historical novels and The New Mrs Clifton takes a different approach in viewing the conflict from a different angle.
Gus Clifton returns from the war to the home he shares with his two sisters with his new wife. This turn of events would always cause shockwaves because he was expected to marry their friend, his fiancée Nella. But Gus hasn’t just broken this loyal woman’s heart, the one who waited for his return, he has married a German woman Krista.
Of course along with the rest of Britain Gus’s two sisters have seen the brutal effects of the war on their country, and those they love the most. Julia is a widow while Tilly is determined to live life to the full.
Elizabeth Buchan recreates the time and place with haunting accuracy. There are bombed buildings, rationing and queues and the concrete fury at the Germans for causing the war. How can Krista damaged by her own experiences of the war can ever be happy in a country where she is hated?
Gus was a member of the British Intelligence forces based in Germany during the conflict and the reader along with his sisters and fiancée are forced to wonder what happened there to choose such an unsuitable wife.
Not only has the author meticulously documented the aftermath of the war in England she has also created some complex characters who interact with each other in an entirely believable manner. The legacy of the polite society is still firmly in place with the snubs against Krista of a low level but persistent nature rather than the locals storming the house and throwing bricks through the window. But the reader gets to peek behind the curtains soon realises that there is something other than love that binds this couple together with Krista battling vivid nightmares and clearly having had no choice but to bind herself to a man she does not love and travel to a country where she is viewed with the highest level of suspicion.
This slow burn of a novel examines how the war has fundamentally changed both Gus and Krista but it also looks at the lives and expectations of those who had no choice but to wait out the conflict with hope diminishing with every piece of bad news. The three British women, Julia with the loss of her love, Tilly with her tentative approaches to their new sister-in-law and Nella who is bewildered and shamed by the turn of events have to find a way to carry on, and to heal. This is a story that will have you asking yourself some difficult questions and to put yourself in the shoes of a woman whose quest for survival has led her into a hostile environment.
The New Mrs Clifton is a deeply moving and sympathetic portrait of life which had the power to examine the way that the perception that a whole nation of people were rotten through the actions of its leaders still persists till this day. It is far easier use the broad brush strokes of the atrocity to paint a picture than to acknowledge that war isn’t kind to anyone, least of all the civilians that are innocent bystanders.
I bought my copy of The New Mrs Clifton after reading a whole heap of great reviews from my fellow bloggers – my friends you did me a great service!