I realise I harp on about the fact I don’t read historical fiction. I occasionally make exceptions for books written in dual timelines (the then and now), but every so often I seem to accidentally read historical fiction and don’t hate it. In fact I quite enjoy it.
So, although mention of ‘the war’ (I or II) has me heading for the hills this is now the THIRD of Caroline Beecham’s novels I’ve read that’s been set during wartime and each time she has inexplicably lured me in with all sorts of interesting information I didn’t realise I enjoyed learning.
I’ve previously commented on her work being similar to that of Natasha Lester, in that there’s something ‘meaty’ (deep or educational) in her narratives. Beecham’s latest, Finding Eadie, brings readers yet more fascinating fodder about life during wartime. This time it’s centred around publishing, books and reading – which is akin to catnip for me. Though there’s also some insight into the less-palatable subject of ‘baby farming’ – illegal adoption / trafficking of babies.
by Caroline Beecham
Published by Allen & Unwin
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Historical Fiction
London 1943: War and dwindling resources are taking their toll on the staff of Partridge Press. The pressure is on to create new books to distract readers from the grim realities of the war, but Partridge's rising star, Alice Cotton, leaves abruptly and cannot be found.
Alice's secret absence is to birth her child, and although her baby's father remains unnamed, Alice's mother promises to help her raise her tiny granddaughter, Eadie. Instead, she takes a shocking action.
Theo Bloom is employed by the American office of Partridge. When he is tasked with helping the British publisher overcome their challenges, Theo has his own trials to face before he can return to New York to marry his fiancee.
Inspired by real events during the Second World War, Finding Eadie is a story about the triumph of three friendships bound by hope, love, secrets and the belief that books have the power to change lives.
I adored Alice and we get her backstory pretty quickly. Beecham doesn’t keep us guess as to Eadie’s father or the situation that led to Alice’s pregnancy.
I was intrigued with the story of how Alice came to be working at Partridge Press and perhaps would have like a little more about her background and work. By the time we meet her—though young and (only) an assistant editor—she has the ear of everyone there.
The insight into the publishing industry during wartime was fascinating. Of course in addition needing to generate revenue in a depressed economy in the 1940s they had to deal with rationing. It wasn’t only a limited budget publishers grappled with, but limited stock of paper. And there’s a lot of interesting information about the switch from hardcover to paperback and printing on both pages (which I didn’t know was never a thing). And of course the age-old battle of types of reading fodder and literary-fiction vs genre-fiction is touched on.
It felt very relevant to this first half of 2020. I know the ‘fallout of COVID-19’ isn’t as dire as wartime or the Great Depression there was still so much of this book that reminded me of the world we’re living in.
Alice arrives at the office each day with her gas mask in hand. And there’s comment on the fact more people are reading than before and there’s a fascination for crime fiction despite the negativity in the world.
I’ve been doing a time-limited rip-off of the popular Humans of New York (HONY) Facebook series for my local community (after receiving a ‘moving arts online’ grant) and I was chuffed to see Alice pitch a non-fiction book about finding ‘extraordinary in the ordinary’ and getting stories of everyday people (particularly women) published and bound for posterity.
Beecham touches on the work of the UK Ministry of Information and its foray into publishing via The Battle of Britain series – its access to first hand accounts and information making it impossible for other publishing houses to replicate or compete with. And of course we get some insight into work Theo (our American interloper) has been doing with the Council of Books in Wartime (in the US), which aims to get popular books into the hands of soldiers overseas.
Of course under all of that is something darker. Although I adored this book I would also have liked a little more backstory on Alice’s mother Ruth. Alice alludes to mental illness (or fragility) after the deaths of her father and brother but she implies there is more. And of course, that coupled with her extreme religiousness results in the tragic turn of events and leads Alice into the world of ‘baby farmers’. It’s here Alice comes across some unlikely collaborators—mentors and unsung champions—and finds support and friendship where she least expects it.
This is yet another enchanting and addictive novel from Beecham with delightful characters, along with a few rascals. And yet again she manages to offer a few historical lessons in a memorable and painless way.
Finding Eadie by Caroline Beecham was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publishers for review purposes.