Wickwythe Hall of Little Judith is the kind of book I love, so I'm not at all surprised that he won the first place for historical fiction this year, Reader Reader Literary Awards. It's the perfect blend of story and interesting characters that you care about. From the first pages, the reader is caught in the dilemma faced by Annelle, a French orphaned French girl with her two brothers who grew up in a convent. We are in May 1940 and the Germans have just invaded France. Annelle wanted to become a nun, but now that her elder brothers are fighting in North Africa and the nuns of the convent want to pray rather than flee in safety, Annelle makes the shared decision to flee south, in hope to reach North Africa and find it again. brothers. The reader witnesses the annoying flight of Annelle on the French roads, by bicycle until it is damaged, then on foot. Eventually, as a result of various events, she leaves France but, instead of going to North Africa, she finds herself a refugee in England.
And that's what happens in the opening chapter.
Once in England, Annelle works at Wickwythe Hall. The other servants suspect that she is a spy, but Annelle's worry is to find a way to communicate with her brothers. The large English country estate is owned by Tony and Mabry Springs. Tony is a British aristocrat landed, but Mabry is an American heiress who is not as trained to do things in English as her husband and those around him. Mabry is very concerned that the war will soon lead to an invasion of England. It is doing everything in its power to contribute to the war effort, including hosting twenty-three children sent from London to Canada for their safety.
Tony and Mabry also have ties to important personalities, including Prime Minister Winston Churchill. One week, Churchill comes to visit him and the house is transformed into central command for the war effort. It's hard enough for Mabry and the staff to respond to Churchill's idiosyncratic demands, but even more difficult for Mabry is that Reid Carr, an American whose marriage proposal has been denied for a long time .
Mabry's married life was not perfect. She and Tony have repeatedly tried to have children, always leading to miscarriages; as a result, they separated. Now, Mabry wonders if Reid is still interested in her and if she is still interested in him. He is naughty, pointing out that the Mabry that he once knew would have been more willing to go swimming at night and do plenty of other things for which Mabry no longer has any inclination.
But Reid is not really at Wickwythe Hall to flirt. President Roosevelt, unable to convince Congress to help him declare war on Germany, sent Reid as an unofficial ambassador to keep him informed, as well as Churchill, of their respective activities. Once Mabry had an idea of Reid's goal, she asked him if he could help Annelle find her brothers. This request causes a chain of events beyond what one of the characters can control.
What makes Wickwythe Hall such a wonderful novel is that the characters come to life in its pages. I became deeply embedded in their decisions and especially in Mabry's temptations to break his wedding vows to be with Reid. The conclusion of the novel is not what I expected, and yet it ends perfectly. The other advantage of this novel is that it is not only historically accurate, but that it teaches the reader new things about history. The Catapult operation, which I had never heard of before, occupies a central place in the novel. This concerns Churchill's efforts to prevent the French fleet from becoming Hitler's property that will be used against England. I will not say how Little inserts this historical event into the plot, as it will spoil the suspense of this novel.
I've also enjoyed the descriptions in the novel. I do not know much about it, but I think Judith Little knows how to sprinkle the description to give color without annoying the reader. Some of his scenes are quite magical, like that of the orphans playing at Wickwythe Hall and descriptions of the landscape. In addition, Little's style reminds me of one of my other favorite English war novels, The Castle on Elizabeth Goudge's Hill. Few know how to ensure good in the world, while realistically showing how frightening and stressful a war can be and how brave the British were in their opposition to Hitler.
All around, Wickwythe Hall will please fans of the history of the Second World War, anglophiles like me and all those who love a good love story featuring strong, realistic and complete characters. . You will have trouble falling asleep.