Doreen’s mother is torn. In World War 2 London, the blitz has begun. Almost all of Doreen’s classmates have already been sent to safety in the country, but Mrs. Rawlings doesn’t believe in separating children from their parents, even in wartime. But the bombings are growing progressively worse.
“Things weren’t getting any better, they were getting worse. Even her faith in the shelter, which up till now had had an almost fanatic quality, was shaken after last night. The shelter had rocked and her faith had rocked with it. Bombs had fallen and buildings had collapsed, and with them had collapsed Mrs. Rawlings’ obstinate, angry confidence in her own invincible rightness of opinion. But for her pride, she could have wept. Life was hard enough without losing Doreen.”
Barbara Noble has gotten inside the heart of wartime England, inside the hearts of a mother and child, and that of a childless couple who (you guessed it), ultimately take Doreen in to live in their home in the country. Her novel simply titled “Doreen” will have the reader on the edge of their seat, wondering what will happen as Doreen, a timid, shy schoolgirl of nine, transitions from her city apartment to life among the upperclass in a country village.
“Mrs. Rawlings turned away abruptly and surveyed the room. It reminded her of one in a house where she had been in service before her marriage; everything good, but worn a little shabby. The chairs needed new covers and there was the mark of a burn on the hearth-rug. Still, there was obviously plenty of money about, by her standards, anyhow. The reflection gave her a sour satisfaction. Doreen was getting something here that she herself would probably never be able to give her. Let her make the most of it. It made a nice change from two rooms in the attic and a kitchen on the landing.”
As complications arise in the form and persona of Doreen’s soldier dad who decides, even though he has been missing from his family’s life for several years, that it is better for his daughter to be in the city ‘among her own folk’, we are swept along with Doreen’s plight wondering who, if anyone, will win in this insightful novel of winners and losers, the strong and the weak, class systems and psychological trauma. The author raises questions that are still problematic for today; who is best served by selflessness? what is in the best interest of a child? can one by blinded by one’s own personal needs, to rationalise decisions that affect others? and, is a stable home life within the comfort of one’s own family sufficient for inner well-being in later life when the physical safety of a child is at risk?
The author is so good at engaging sympathy for the characters in this book! I read “Doreen” within two days (and could have read it faster had it not been at a particularly busy time in my life), just not wanting to put it down.
The preface to this book explains that “Operation Pied Piper” was put into effect on September 1, 1939, and “nearly one and a half million children left London in two days; on September 3rd war was declared and several days after that parents received postcards saying where and with whom their families were living.”