Publication year: 2004
This new book starts in June 1939.
Britain is already getting ready for a war that everybody expects and fears. In Bootle we get to meet three families. The first one is the Monaghans. Vera Monaghan is a kind, overweight woman with a big family. She has eight strapping boys, and at forty-seven when she didn’t expect any more children, she got pregnant and had a baby girl, who is now the apple of her eye. Mary is now five, and the whole family spoils her. Vera is happy with her little girl, and I love the warmth and sweetness in the relationship between mother and daughter. Vera is also very worried about the war as she has five sons over eighteen, and she knows that were the war to break out, her sons will be called up.
The second family lives opposite the Monaghans. Laura and Roddy Oliver have a little girl, Hester, who is the same age as Mary. Laura and Roddy are very young, and we learn that when Laura was sixteen, she fell pregnant. Both Laura and Roddy come from well-off families, and they both went to public schools. Their families didn’t approve of the relationship, so when Laura got pregnant and their families threatened to take the baby and pulled them apart, they decided to elope. Roddy was forced to do all kinds of menial jobs, and when his brother and father found him, once again they had to flee for fear of being found. So that is why they are now in Bootle. Roddy works as a builder’s assistant, and he is paid a pittance. The moment when Laura starts befriending Vera Monaghan is when her husband falls from a ladder and taken to hospital, so Laura asks Vera to look after the girl while she rushes to hospital. Hester and Mary become friends, and Vera and Laura also start to get to know each other.
Above Laura’s apartment there is another family, a mother and a daughter. Agnes Tate is a terrible woman, who treats her fourteen-year-old daughter Queenie horribly. She resents her for being born. Queenie is the result of a one-night stand after Agnes’s husband left. We learn that Agnes did everything to miscarry the girl, and then when she was born, the girl was looked after by different neighbours, who noticed the childn’s bruises and scratches, which means that Agnes mistreated her from a very tender age. Even once Agnes pushed her down the stairs, and Queenie broke an arm, and when the woman looking after her noticed, she told Agnes to take her to hospital and be ready to answer questions. Agnes never took Queenie to hospital but patched her up herself, which resulted in her bones not fixing well, so now Queenie’s arm is a strange shape and weak. When Queenie was eight, Agnes decided she could look after herself and do all the housework while she worked in the local pub. Now Agnes has got a proposition from a man called Norris Derek. He wants he to go to London with her, and at first Agnes declined, saying she had a daughter, but now she is considering leaving Queenie and going with this man. This sounds like a terrible thing to do, but I have to say that Queenie will be better without this woman who makes her life so miserable.