“In times of trouble, they will stand together”
- Book: Secrets Of The Railway Girls
- Location: Manchester
- Author: Maisie Thomas
Whilst author Maisie Thomas has treated me to this, the captivating second, stand alone ‘Railway Girls’ story; as a collection and notwithstanding the horrific and devastating nature of events surrounding the storylines, this series is just getting better and better!
I am completely invested in the characters, location and lives, of this war-torn community, which documents in a way which is both entertaining and informative, a very special slice of social and cultural history and personal commentary of the times, meticulously researched to the ‘Nth degree’, so as to be as authentic and realistic as is possible.
That Maisie decided to set this wartime saga in the northern City of Manchester, a place she knows personally so well, she features not only one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, in Victoria Railway Station, but one which holds such relevant interest for her to this day, shines through all too clearly in the authentic details, which make this book a joy to savour as either an armchair traveller, or amateur social historian.
Replete with intensely textured and often profoundly touching detail, Maisie has created a beautifully structured storyline, which is rich in atmosphere, written with total authority and related with complete confidence, assured in the journey on which she wishes to take both her characters and readers. Crisp, observational and descriptive narrative, combined with excellent conversational and fluid dialogue, offers a real sense of time and place. I could almost imagine myself sharing an after work snatched cup of tea in the railway station buffet with some of the ladies. Or out on patrol with the first aid team, as the bombs keep raining down and our services are needed by so many people, many of whom we don’t know, but always with that fear that the next port of call will involve a personal relative or friend!
From all walks of life, this newly established group of friends have been thrown together by the necessities and tragedy of WWII and the impact that has had on what has until then, been a predominantly male oriented workplace. With so many of their husbands, sons and brothers having been called to arms, it is left to the women left at home to pick up the slack of the unfilled jobs, which will help to keep the country safe and functioning as smoothly as possible, to ensure the survival of a nation, through its railway network. To say that this is a culture shock to those men who have been unable to join the frontline fighting forces, is to trivialise the feelings of jealousy and outrage, at the turning inside out of the very fabric of their lives. Many accept the inevitable with good grace, whilst some will harbour ill-will and grudges a plenty, especially when the women prove they are more than capable of ensuring that the most important of services are kept running efficiently, as well as still being able to maintain home and family with an almost ‘service as usual’ attitude!
A born storyteller, Maisie has created a complete, multi-faceted community of individually complex characters for me to connect with, giving each of them a unique and individual voice, with which to tell their own story’s. Whilst I didn’t necessarily invest in every single one of them individually to the same degree, much as I wouldn’t with any group I was introduced to or joined, as a collective they formed a special representative snapshot of the fabric of society, which could have been picked up and moved to any place in the country at that moment in time, where the resultant spirit of endeavour, cooperation, friendship and ‘pulling together’, would have shone through the heartbreak of war.
That as vulnerable individuals, they all have their own complexities and emotional traumas and heart-breaking secrets there is no doubt. However war is a great leveller and the developing genuine synergy and evolving dynamics between them and some of the individual transformations, whilst often causing some amusing and laugh-out-loud moments, only made them more genuine and believable. Even the most stoic and private of them, is fast coming to realise, that in these times of doubt and uncertainty, a trouble shared is a trouble halved, as they prove time and again that they will always be there for one another, whether it be to lend a helping hand or simply as a shoulder to cry on.
When characters are this realistically drawn, well defined and developed, almost before I could stop myself, I found that I was assigning each of their personalities, mannerisms or appearances, to people I know or have known in my own life, making this story all the more personal and intimate.