The Soldier's Wife
Margaret Leroy
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Buy *The Soldier's Wife* by Margaret Leroy online

The Soldier's Wife
Margaret Leroy
416 pages
June 2011
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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While the plot of Leroy’s traditional novel is shaped by the a deep and abiding love between an Englishwoman and a German soldier, the author creates a thought-provoking scenario, excelling in her portrait of the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands throughout Word War II. There’s a deep sense of being cloistered, comfortably ensconced in Vivian de la Mare’s home in the wet -wooded valleys and bright cornfields of St. Pierre du Bois on Guernsey Island.

While Eugene, Vivienne's husband, is away fighting, she enjoys a quiet life with her two daughters - Millie and Blanche - and her aging mother-in-law, Evelyn, who is slowly losing her mind. But with English soldiers gone, there’s no one left to defend the Islands. In a life growing “serrated with fear,” many of the Islanders have sent their children away to London, fearful of an impending German invasion.

For Vivienne, this idea is ominous and full of danger. She elects instead to stay, scarcely aware of her momentary decision as she pulls Millie and Blanche out of the dockside queue, dumping their bags down beside her. Now back in her big old labyrinthine house, Le Colombier, Vivienne must face the reality of her situation: a woman in a new and unsure existence, without Eugene and without the English Crown for protection.

In St. Peter Port, while having tea with her best friend, Gwen, Vivienne first hears the German guns and sees the planes. Suddenly everything is falling apart and unraveling, all the “intricate warp” of the peaceful life she once lived. Thrust into blind rage and shock, Vivienne and her neighbors have no choice but to come to terms with the uniformed invaders as they stand looking entirely out of place in “the leaf-dappled light amid cowpats and potholes.”

Leroy delicately builds the drama around enemy occupation, emphasizing Vivienne’s desperate actions and inner fears as the German contingent moves into the house next door. While officious Captain Max reminds her of the new rules, Vivienne is drawn to handsome Gunther Lehmann, pensive and less authoritative than the other officers.

There’s a jolt of desire so out of place that it leaves her breathless as she waits for him long into the night. Vivienne knows that her actions are wild, irrational, impulsive, and wrong, but she’s oblivious to the consequences and can’t help the joy of being taken in his arms, swept away by a sense of his infinite preciousness. Here Vivienne faces her toughest test yet.

As Leroy’s clandestine romance unfolds, man’s brutality contrasts with the day-to-day textures of island life, and no one is left untouched. Examining the nature of betrayal, the author’s lyrical prose reveal the desperate, yearning sadness of those who are left behind and forced to make their own choices in the midst of occupation and war.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2011

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