Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Book Reivew: Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner
Author: Susan Meissner
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Content Alert: A pretty clean read
It's Isabel McFarland's ninetieth birthday, and her family has gathered to celebrate. However, before the party can start, Isabel has agreed to tell her experiences in the London blitz, which she has never shared before, to a college student who is gathering oral histories. Isabel launches into an epic tale of two sisters, fifteen-year-old Emmy and six-year-old Julia, who lived in London until just before the first bombs started falling, when their mother sent them to live in the Cotswolds with a retired schoolteacher and her sister. Emmy, angry at being sent away from the job she loved at a dressmaker's shop, returns to the city to meet with a potential employer, and this action changes the lives of both girls forever.
Secrets of a Charmed Life is the story of many voices-- we have Isabel's voice looking back, Julia's voice in journal entries, and Kendra (the student) frames the story with her interviews. Actually, my only quibble with the narrative is the fact that Isabel's voice doesn't feel like narrative storytelling. Meissner will have her go on for a hundred pages with no interruption, and when we jump back out to Kendra, it feels a little jarring. But that's only because Isabel's story is such a good one-- rich in detail, regret, and longing. I love the way that we see Emmy come to understand and even forgive the single mother of whose choices she had been so disapproving. There's a lot of tragedy in this novel, but a lot of redemption too, and it's one that I read from cover to cover quickly, sneaking away to read a page or two between loads of laundry and car pools.