“This will be a festive season to remember”
- Book: Christmas With The Railway Girls (The Railway Girls #4)
- Location: Manchester
- Author: Maisie Thomas
I know I must sound a bit like a stuck record, but I have to say it once again, this series just keeps on giving and getting better all the time. Author, Maisie Thomas, always manages to put a slightly different spin on the storyline, which keeps each new episode unique, fresh, vibrant and relevant to the cultural and societal mores of the times. Also, whilst a series, each book can be read quite happily as a stand alone story, with any necessary background story details fed in succinctly, so that whilst I never felt left out or cheated in any way, I conversely didn’t feel that there was too much repetition surrounding past events and relationships.
Whilst this chapter in the lives of ‘The Railway Girls’, has technically been classified as a Christmas episode, I think it would be fine to read at any time of the year, as the seasonal references, whilst definitely present, don’t overwhelm the narrative or dialogue, which also spans the preceding months from June to November. It would be a shame to miss out on this episode for fear that Christmas is its only focus point. As the bombing raids intensify and a ravaged city faces shortages and tragedy, friendships amongst colleagues becomes an even more vital bond, on a railway network which is a sitting target for the enemy.
For this fourth storyline, the spotlight switches direction, to focus on three different members of the group, although of course, it is still “all for one and one for all” when the chips are down, and matriarch Mrs Dot Green, remains the lynchpin which holds everything together and on whom they can all depend, either as a mother figure to the younger members, or as a sensible shoulder to cry on and offer words of advice and wisdom, to her fellow, more mature friends. However, Dot is your typical, down-to-earth Mancunian, with no airs and graces, no plumb in her mouth, a little rough around the edges and with not too many social skills or etiquette. All the ladies come from diverse backgrounds, some are more polished than others and whilst they may not in other circumstances, be the most natural of bedfellows, they have all learned that war is a great leveller and defies class and distinction. However not all their family members may be quite so easy going or accommodating.
Following a lengthy courtship, Alison has been thwarted in love in the most painful of ways, with her woe being compounded not only by the speed at which her supposedly forever soulmate moves on with his life, but by a member of her own family, who under any other circumstances would show more empathy with Alison, but in wartime conditions and with the threat of invasion growing ever closer, needs to grab their own happiness where and when they can. With the help of her friends, is Alison able to begin putting the past behind her and reach for the future she deserves?
The ladies have always thought that Colette was way too shy and wrapped up in her overly attentive husband. However throughout, I have been of the opinion that there was more going on than met the eye. Whilst I wasn’t quite spot on with my deductions, they were close enough to cause consternation and I could only applaud Colettes tenacity in keeping her secret until she could bear it no longer. Her often silent plea, “You never know what goes on behind closed doors” is finally heard, although only by one of her non railway friends, and not the erstwhile Dot this time. With help and support, Colette’s eventual act of ultimate courage may appear fatal and final, but has the door been left ajar for later episodes?
Cordelia, whilst not the only refined, top drawer person in the group, is the only one who has a husband at home, to whom class, image and standing in the community, is all important and encompassing. Cordelia has accepted the friendship and adapted to the ways of all the other ladies, but particularly Dot, with whom she has a special rapport and understanding, despite their disparate backgrounds, especially as they are the two elders of the group. Cordelia hopes that Kenneth and daughter Emily will learn to see the good in people, no matter what their social status, so that friendships forged in wartime adversity might continue into the peaceful aftermath, should that day ever come. It seems however, that Cordelia has been too good at raising a daughter in her own own image and Emily is even more intransigent than her father. What will it take for a complete change of heart to happen and will Cordelia have to make the ultimate sacrifice to set the wheels in motion?
Multi-layered, well structured and naturally evolving, often tense and highly textured, sometimes humorous, but always hopeful. Beautifully fluent narrative and dialogue always written from the heart, offers a very easy going, three dimensional, wonderfully visual sense of time and place, which is totally immersive. The author’s love of railways also shines through in the meticulous attention to detail and although I have never visited Manchester or seen Victoria Station for myself, I could almost imagine myself there, soaking up the atmosphere alongside the ladies as they go about their daily work, then later enjoying a cup of tea with them in the concourse buffet, grabbing those few minutes of relaxation time in which to be themselves, before they head their separate ways as they switch back into domestic mode to tackle the day to day trials and tribulations of wartime shortages and household family emergencies.
Maisie has created and developed a compelling core cast of characters, who have been afforded the strongest of voices with which to tell their story. However she astutely realised that in the troubled wartime experiences this band of friends share, some relationships will inevitably change and evolve over time, either as a consequence of the ravages of the war itself, or through changes in personal circumstances. Either way, Maisie is really adept at treating departing characters with the respect they are due and welcoming newcomers into the fold, to add their own unique blend of strengths and bonds to the new mix, keeping “The Railway Girls” alive. The camaraderie, dynamics and synergy between the characters is very evocative and tangible, making them easy to relate to and invest in. Yes, they are as complex and emotional, raw, vulnerable and passionate as the next person; however they are always vibrant, genuine and believable, addictive and authentic, often with a great sense of fun despite the difficult and busy lives they lead and the personal challenges and tragedies they must endure.
I read for Enjoyment, Entertainment and Escapism. Ideally I also like my storylines to be Engaging, Emotional and Educational. When each new book in a series can evoke all those feelings, time and time again, without losing its edge, then I know I am on to a winner!
“Keep the home fires burning”, Maisie!