New Book – The English Girl by Margaret Leroy (Chapters 1-7)

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Publication year: 2013

It is September, 1937 ans Stella Whitaker is on her way to Vienna. Stella is seventeen, and she is going to study piano in the Academy of Music. She has been playing the piano since she was a child, encouraged by her mother. Her teacher got a teacher in the academy to listen to her playing, and the man offered her a place. Stella and her widowed mother are not rich, so they had to find a way for her to live in Vienna, and at first, even though the woman made everything to find a way, she finally told Stella that there was not going to be possible for her to study in Vienna. Stella wouldn’t give up, and she begged her mother to try more. So then Helena Whitaker surprises her daughter one day, telling her that she has written to her friends Rainer and Marthe Krause, and they agree to take her in while she looked after their four-year-old son as the English nanny they had is not with them any longer. Helena’s attitude makes me suspicious. If she knew these people in Vienna and claims they are her friends, why didn’t she contact them from the outset? I think there’s a story here that we’ll learn eventually.

When Stella gets to meet Rainer and Marthe, she feels that there is something peculiar in this family. Marthe is effusive, but she makes a point to mention that her husband is quite fussy in his ways, and one of his rules is that nobody ever gets into his study. Stella doesn’t know why but she feels a bit peculiar about the man. When she finally meets Rainer, he is clearly quite serious and not very talkative. Then when Stella mentions the previous nanny, whose name she learnt was Verity Miller, Marthe reacts nervously, and I wonder what is the story with the nanny. Is Rainer dangerous around young ladies? Is that the reason why Stella’s mother didn’t contact these friends in the first place? Did Stella’s mother have an affair with this man? Or maybe the nanny had the affair and that might have got her fired?

When Stella goes to the academy the next day, she is apprehensive, and things don’t perk up as the teacher she met in Enland Dr Zaslovsky has nothing nice to say about her playing, and he wants her to change all she has learnt. Feeling down in the lumps, she leaves the academy, and as she sits on a bench, she starts talking to a girl she saw in the academy, a ballet student. Her name is Anneliese, and we get the impression that Anneliese has seen more of life than Stella. Anneliese is cheeky and frank, and she tells Stella about her German boyfriend who is a soldier, and her plans to become a film director someday. Stella is impressed by this young woman, and at the end of their encounter she feels in better spirits and she goes home in the belief that Anneliese is the kind of woman she wants to become.

Interesting start. There are a few mysteries here, and I think we are going to see this shy girl come out of her cocoon as she gets new experiences in this foreign land.

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