Review by Hilary Whorrall
Publisher: Avon 5th August 2021
ISBN: 978-0-00-840230-3 PB
The novel’s storyline is based around a fictitious plot to bomb Big Ben on New Years Eve, December 1940. During WWII the chimes from the clock, which preceded the nine o’clock news, held great significance for people not only in the UK, but across Europe. During the silent minute when the clock struck, listeners were encouraged to pray for peace and the notion of destroying Big Ben was an attempt to shatter their morale.
The action alternates between 1940 and 2021. In the present day the central character Ellie travels to London from Westchester County in the United States, prompted by the urge to find out more about her grandmother Eleanor Spelman. Eleanor was married to Arthur, one of the engineers who maintained Big Ben and all of the clocks in the Houses of Westminster. She was killed during the Blitz and little about her had ever been mentioned. Ellies’s own mother Alice is elderly, frail and showing signs of dementia and seems unwilling, or unable to explain why she left the UK for the States and ceased contact with her family there.
I found this book an engaging read in that it provided an insight into the lives of ordinary people and how they survived living in London during the bombing, as well as the impact which the evacuation of children to the countryside had on the families involved. Despite the hardships and devastation faced, most people rose to the everyday challenges and took risks for the sake of others. The novel also includes a portrayal of the sinister operations of the Fascist movement in the UK at that time and what motivated citizens to engage in its sabotage attempts.