THE SOLDIER’S WIFE by Margaret Leroy [Review]
It’s the middle of World War II on a small island in France during the occupation and while her husband is away fighting, Vivienne de la Mare works hard to keep her family surviving when a group of German soldiers moves in next door. Soon, Vivienne finds herself caught up in an affair with one of the soldiers, and when she meets a Russian prisoner in one of the camps, her loyalty to love or country is tested.
THE SOLDIER’S WIFE frustrated me; in a good way. It’s unique in that it doesn’t focus on the horror that we’ve come to identify with the second war–in the death, despair, Holocaust kind of way. Leroy tells the story of Vivienne in such a poignant way, weaving clips of her life together through short vignettes. She writes in a way that we feel with Vivienne. We worry about her mother in law’s health and her daughters’ safety and happiness. We’re confused when her youngest daughter, Millie, befriends a stranger, and we don’t know how to feel about the Germans–should we hate them because they’re German? Or feel sorry that their own lives are being ruined?
My criticism lies in the vignettes, as lovely and as emotional though they are, they don’t make me fall in love with Gunther, the German soldier who lives next door. Vivienne is stereotypically trapped in a loveless marriage–who isn’t in literature?–but Leroy never really makes me feel that loveless emotion. Instead, she chooses to tell me what happens between Vivienne and Gunther instead of showing me with poetic phrases, which makes the love affair lose impact. In fact, the entirety of the novel set on this small, gossipy island, seems a bit far-fetched: in the three years of this secret affair, how are the two never discovered? And for a book that made me feel so many emotions, Vivienne seemed to be lacking in them.
All in all, however, I couldn’t put the book down and was mad that I hadn’t picked it up sooner.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars | Publisher: Voice | Pages: 416 | Source: BEA (Book Expo America)