Book Review: All the Nice Girls by Joan Bakewell
All the Nice Girls by Joan Bakewell
This historical novel set in Britain during the Second World War centres around a little known, but true-life ‘Ship Adoption’ scheme. All the Nice Girls follows the story of the Ashworth Grammar School for Girls that signs up to this scheme, ‘adopting’ the crew of the SS Traverran. The ship’s officers visit the school and letters begin to flow back and forth between the sailors and the young women in the school. As you can imagine, various romances ensue – and the consequences disrupt many lives and even reverberate to the next generation. The plot alternates between 2003 and the early 1940s, allowing contrasts of light and shade, immediacy and reflection.
Joan Bakewell has a broadcasting career that spans 45 years, so as you would expect of a journalist of her calibre, the book is extremely well researched. However, she has also shown remarkable skill as a debut novelist of capturing the danger and excitement of the times, the high emotion of the illicit love affairs and the pain of separation, as well as the horror of the battles at sea. This is a book that is moving and compelling, a wartime novel of romance that also has action and adventure, and excellent characters that are easy to care for. The most compelling character of all? Not the schoolgirls experiencing heady love and lust for the first time – but instead the ‘tall straightbacked’ headmistress of the school, a woman whose fiancé was killed in the First World War and who has closed the door on the possibility of ever knowing love again. But all that changes when she meets the dashing Captain Josh Percival… This is a first class book with much to recommend it.