I’ve talked before about the fact that I don’t read historical fiction. It seems however that I DO occasionally read historical fiction… particularly when intertwined with the present, which is the case with Caroline Beecham’s latest novel Eleanor’s Secret.
I read Beecham’s Maggie’s Kitchen in 2016 and realised how little I knew about wartime London. In particular she introduced me (and other readers presumably, though I am probably more ignorant than most!!!) to the Ministry of Food and British Restaurants – set up by government to provide low cost hot meals to residents.Eleanor's Secret
by Caroline Beecham
Published by Allen & Unwin
on April 24th 2018
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Historical Fiction, Women's Fiction
London, 1942: When art school graduate, Eleanor Roy, is recruited by the War Artist Advisory Committee, she comes one step closer to realising her dream of becoming one of the few female war artists. But breaking into the art establishment proves difficult until Eleanor meets painter, Jack Valante, only to be separated by his sudden posting overseas.
Melbourne 2010: Although reluctant to leave her family at home, Kathryn can't refuse her grandmother Eleanor's request to travel to London to help her return a precious painting to its artist. But when the search uncovers a long-held family secret, Kathryn has to make a choice to return home or risk her family's future, as Eleanor shows her that safeguarding the future is sometimes worth more than protecting the past.
Beecham refers to the British Restaurants again here, but only obliquely as Eleanor’s role is engaging artists to provide artwork to ensure that the restaurants, “be so designed and decorated internally as to give an air of brightness and cheerfulness.” p 17
Eleanor fails to recruit Jack to her British Restaurant decoration cause and believes he’s applying to become a War Artist, but unbeknown to her (and his family) he’s actually been recruited by the Special Operations Executive.
I didn’t entirely understand what his role was in that respect but – when he eventually gets sent into action as a War Artist (ostensibly to sketch and document wartime activities, alongside Press Correspondents and the like) he gets information or messages out via his artwork. I think. The whole spook side of things was possibly a little underdone, as I wasn’t sure what he was required to do or understand the secrets he was forced to keep from Eleanor or the soldiers with whom he was embedded.
In the present day we meet Eleanor’s granddaughter, Kathryn – a wife and mother. Her grandmother asks for her help at a challenging time. She’s separated from her husband (and business partner) Chris and her son Oliver has autism and her absence is disruptive. It’s really not until she arrives in England and understands the relevance of her quest that she becomes determined to find Jack and learn more about his relationship with her grandmother.
Like Maggie’s Kitchen, I enjoyed this more than I expected. I was reminded of a recent (very different) read (Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce, also about wartime London and a young woman who yearned to be a Lady War Correspondent… until fate intervened. Similarly here, I appreciated that Eleanor was happy and contented with her life though it didn’t work out as she’d expected or envisaged.
Also, as in Maggie’s Kitchen, there are a lot of facts mixed in with the fiction and those with an interest in history, war, the arts or all of the above, will appreciate the painstaking research that must have gone into this book, along with the references to key figures and events of the time.
Fans of Natasha Lester and Kate Morton will very much enjoy this new release and the dual time-zones mean the books will also appeal to a broader audience.
Eleanor’s Secret by Caroline Beecham was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.