While Storm Desmond wreaks havoc on the nation, it’s wise to take refuge inside, curled up with some good reading material until the cruel weather subsides. Katie Flynn’s festive offering, When Christmas Bells Ring, is a fitting distraction from the harsh wind and heavy rain.
This wartime story focuses on the impact World War 2 had on a number of families in Liverpool. At the heart of the narrative is Rosheen Clarke and her ongoing struggle with raising twins single-handedly. April and May are selfish, rude and mischievous, and Rosheen wonders whether she’s been too easy on them over the years. The twins’ lack of respect for adults lands them in all kinds of trouble, leaving Rosheen to clean up the mess.
April and May are evacuated with other children when war breaks out, giving Rosheen independence she hasn’t had since before the twins were born. She joins the WAAF and plays her part in the war effort, hoping the twins mature in the grim circumstances. April and May think they’ll be able to get up to no good while they’re away from home, but quickly learn their new guardians won’t have any messing about. Some of the most emotive and comical parts of the novel involve their unbreakable bond, cunning plots and childhood innocence.
Rosheen forms a strong friendship with fellow Liverpudlian Cassie Valentine in the WAAF; they are the more likeable and relatable characters in the book, and it’s touching to see how total strangers could form lifelong connections during this dark period. Cassie and Rosheen may differ in age but they’re able to offer one another the support and guidance they need. Cassie is still only a teenager, sick of her domineering father and tired of living in her best friend’s shadow. The war is an opportunity to put her talents to use and decide what she really wants from life. Her ambition, sharp wit and impatience with sexist remarks make her the stand-out character.
Throughout the war, the characters have to adapt to major changes, make important life decisions and discover who they are. Flynn capably explores women’s contributions to the war and numerous aspects of womanhood in general; motherhood, sisterhood and friendship are the core themes running through. She also strikingly captures the day-to-day lives of people enduring the conflict, providing great detail about how people coped with rationing, evacuation and being separated from family members.
If you don’t fancy braving the weather or if you’re getting into the holiday spirit, When Christmas Bells Ring is the perfect festive read.
When Christmas Bells Ring was published by Arrow on 22 Oct 2015.