Friday, 26 June 2020

Spotlight, Review & Author Guest Post: The English Wife by Adrienne Chinn

Exploring World War II Norwich
My second novel, The English Wife, begins with English war bride, Ellie Burgess Parsons, at Liverpool dockside with her baby, Emmett, and her father and younger sister, Dottie, as she readies herself for the long voyage across the Atlantic to her new life on in a remote fishing village on the rugged island of Newfoundland. Ellie is a Norwich girl, the daughter of the headmaster of a local boys’ school, and, as I wrote her 1940s story, I wanted to recreate her world in this bustling medieval city as faithfully as I could. There was a lot of information to be found online, of course, but nothing beats visiting a place to walk in the footsteps of your characters. So, in February 2019, I took myself up to Norwich on the train and spent five days exploring the city with my writer friend, Melvyn Fickling, a long-time Norwich resident.

In Melvyn I had an ideal guide – he is the author of three World War II novels and has an extensive knowledge of Norwich at that time. We traced the path of bombing raids; bought trinkets in the open market (where Ellie has a heated scene with her Newfoundlander husband-to-be, Thomas Parsons); followed her route into Jarrolds Department store (which is still there, looking much as it would have in 1942) and on to Bethel Street Fire Station where she worked in the Auxiliary Fire Service; found the original location of the Rowntree-Macintosh chocolate factory by Chapelfield Gardens – renamed Mcklintock’s Chocolates in The English Wife, where Ellie’s fiancĂ© George works in administration; and refreshed ourselves in The Gardeners Arms (AKA The Murderers), just as Thomas and Ellie do.

On a walk past the impressive Cathedral of St John the Baptist – Ellie’s local church – we discovered the somewhat hidden entrance to the lovely Victorian Plantation Garden, with its moss-covered fountains, and winding paths through the terraced hillsides, and I knew I had to use it as a setting for one of Ellie’s and Thomas’s clandestine meetings. Similarly, a walk along the Wensum River brought us to the ruins of the medieval Cow Tower, where Ellie and Thomas share an illicit tryst.

The Samson & Hercules nightclub on Tombland, where Ellie and her friend Ruthie often danced with George, Thomas and other newly-arrived soldiers, is now a restaurant, and fibreglass replicas of the original 17th century Samson and Hercules statues hold up the portico (the original, restored Samson is on display at the Museum of Norwich, though Hercules is too fragile and is safely stored in the museum’s vaults).

The weather during those February days was a gift of bright blue skies and warm early spring sun, and, as we walked through the winding cobbled streets of the ancient city, still so unchanged from those war years of the 1940s, it was easy to imagine that just around a corner I’d bump into Ellie and Ruthie hurrying down a lane on their way to the latest showing at the cinema, or a dance at the Samson & Hercules.
The English Wife by Adrienne Chinn

Two women, a world apart.
A secret waiting to be discovered…
VE Day 1945: As victory bells ring out across the country, war bride Ellie Burgess’ happiness is overshadowed by grief. Her charismatic Newfoundlander husband Thomas is still missing in action.

Until a letter arrives explaining Thomas is back at home on the other side of the Atlantic recovering from his injuries.
Travelling to a distant country to live with a man she barely knows is the bravest thing Ellie has ever had to do. But nothing can prepare her for the harsh realities of her new home…
September 11th 2001: Sophie Parry is on a plane to New York on the most tragic day in the city’s history. While the world watches the news in horror, Sophie’s flight is rerouted to a tiny town in Newfoundland and she is forced to seek refuge with her estranged aunt Ellie.

Determined to discover what it was that forced her family apart all those years ago, newfound secrets may change her life forever…

This is a timeless story of love, sacrifice and resilience perfect for fans of Lorna Cook and Gill Paul.

The English Wife is a captivating novel about two women and how their lives are intertwined. 

As a reader, I'm always cautious when I pick up a novel when duel times lines are involved because quite often I feel overwhelmed trying to remember names and details. I needn't have worried about The English Wife as Ms Chinn has produced an easy to follow narrative which also includes multiply points of view too. The novel has two distinct parts. The first follows Ellie's life in Norwich during World War II and Sophie's unscheduled arrival in Newfoundland in 2001. Part two focuses on Ellie's life after she arrives in Newfoundland in 1946, and Sophie's second visit back to the island in 2011. 

Tippy's Tickle, what a wonderful place it is. The descriptions bring the place alive making it easy to visualise the rugged landscape and to see it through the eyes of Ellie as she arrived in Newfoundland after travelling thousands of miles from Norwich. I enjoyed learning about the lifestyles of the habitants and the history. Mostly I appreciated how Ellie's life evolved away from her family and the people she surrounded herself with.

Family drama, secrets and the complexities of relationships. The English Wife is emotionally charged, with tragedy and heartbreak as well as regret and sacrifice as the lives of Ellie and Sophie collide in an unexpected way. The outcome gives both women closure in what turns out to be a complicated situation and highlights that actions have consequences. The narrative begins slowly, but there's a gradual increase in pace building to a satisfying but bitter-sweet outcome. 

Overall, expect to embark on an emotional journey full of twists and turns in this beautifully written and engaging novel. 

***arc generously received courtesy of 0ne More Chapter via NetGalley***

Adrienne Chinn was born in Grand Falls, Newfoundland, grew up in Quebec, and eventually made her way to London, England after a career as a journalist. In England she worked as a TV and film researcher before embarking on a career as an interior designer, lecturer, and writer. When not up a ladder or at the computer, she can usually be found rummaging through flea markets or haggling in the Marrakech souk. Her second novel, The English Wife -- a timeslip story set in World War II England and contemporary Newfoundland -- is published in June 2020. Her debut novel, The Lost Letter from Morocco, was published by Avon Books UK in 2019. She is currently writing her third novel, The Photographer's Daughters, the first of a 3-book series, to be published in 2021.