The Linen Queen: A Novel by Patricia Falvey
- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Center Street (March 2, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1599952009
- ISBN-13: 978-1599952000
My Rating: 4.5 of 5.0
Product Description:Review: This is a beautiful story, set in an an unusual time and place, of a young girl's growth into a caring woman.
From Patricia Falvey, the acclaimed author of The Yellow House, comes The Linen Queen, a moving tale of love and loyalty set in Northern Ireland during the Second World War.
Winning the Linen Queen beauty competition—and its prize money—at first seems the answer to Sheila McGee’s prayers, giving her the means to escape her small mill town. Unfortunately, before she could set her plans in motion, the Belfast blitz makes it impossible for her to get the travel papers she needs. Another opportunity opens up, however, when the Americans—and Captain Joel Solomon—arrive, but even as Sheila fights to hold on to her dream, the war marches ever closer, threatening to engulf her and her friends in the flames of hatred and destruction.
Sheila was Daddy’s little girl but her father left when she was a child and never returned. Sheila and her self centered mother live in a basement room beneath her strict Aunt and drunken Uncle. Sheila’s mother derides Sheila and uses guilt to take all of Sheila’s earnings. Sheila even has to share her bed when her Aunt takes in a bitter and frightened waif. Sheila dreams of leaving her small town and now that she is 18 she has the chance to win the mill Linen Queen competition and make her escape.
Sheila’s best friend is Gavin, her childhood playmate, who took over the cargo boat business after his father died. Sheila and Gavin have a favorite meeting place where they can look out across the water at the beautiful mountains and on a clear day they can see the lush green of the three surrounding counties. Sheila longs to go away on one of the ships while Gavin is always happy to return to port and home. They have been like brother and sister but it seems that moody 22 year old Gavin is developing a different interest in Sheila.
Sheila is depressed when she is not even chosen for the Linen Queen competition. Although she is really a good girl, her reputation is one of a flirt. She is independent and a bit brash, but never shabby. Surprise circumstances result in her winning the title and money but she doesn’t get to go away because the war comes.
Many of the girls see the bright young American soldiers as a way to leave the drudgery of their lives. Sheila slowly develops a friendship with Jewish Captain, Joel Solomon. Joel is a sober and pessimistic man who is drawn to Sheila’s vibrancy even as he acknowledges that he will probably not live through the war. Sheila doesn’t truly love Joel but can she use him to get away from Ireland to England? Meanwhile she is at odds with Gavin who is angry at the American efforts and begins to get pulled into the IRA rebellion.
The story moves over several years showing Sheila’s character growth from her inward, self-interest focus to a giving and caring person. She is the strongest among her friends and even though there are struggles and falling outs she is there to pull them together.
I thoroughly enjoyed the story showing the insecurities, jealousies and struggles of these young Irish women. The setting and characters are beautifully and richly portrayed. I loved this particular bit of comfort from the orphanage Rabbi: “I have always believed that when a person dies his soul melts into tiny pieces and lodges in the hearts of those he loved.” Page 180.
I highly recommend this emotional spotlight on a unique character in a special place and time.
xxxThank you to Sarah and Center Street division of Hachette for the book to read and review.
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