This book is full of trees. The Forest of Dean to be exact. Shelter by Sarah Franklin is the story of two outsiders who find themselves in the forest during World War Two. As they struggle to survive, to learn about their surroundings, how to get by from day to day, each finds a way to live the rest of their lives.
Early in 1944 in Coventry, Connie Granger’s life is changed in the course of one night. Escaping the bombing, city-girl Connie takes a job with the Women’s Timber Corps. Unable to follow her dreams, she resents the change of direction. Sent to the Forest of Dean for her training, she turns out to be so good the manager keeps her on. Meanwhile, in the forest, a prisoner-of-war camp is built for Italian soldiers captured during fighting in Africa. Neither prisoner Seppe, nor Connie, know one tree from another but together they learn to fell trees and work timber. And they get to know each other.
The themes of nature, change and new birth are strong throughout Shelter, symbolised not just by the trees but by the growth of Joe, Connie’s baby, and the increasingly fluency of Seppe’s English. Both are odd-ones-out. Both feel they don’t ‘fit’. Except in the forest. Connie lodges in the cottage of farmer Amos, who worries for the life of his absent soldier son Billy. Seppe, though he lives in the camp, exploits the lax guards and spends more time amongst the trees. These three, with timber manager Frank and his wife Joyce, completes the cast of characters.
The story of the wartime lumberjills was fascinating. This is a well-written debut novel by a writer brave enough to allow Connie to be determined and selfish, unsure, selfish again, before working out what she wants. There is something honest in Connie’s selfishness which makes her seem real. The switching around of the timeline at the beginning was unnecessarily confusing, but after that the story swung along as Connie transforms from someone who doesn’t recognise bluebells as she walks through a wood, to a woman who stops to watch a hawk swoop in for the kill.
If you like this, try:-
‘Homeland’ by Clare Francis
‘Another You’ by Jane Cable
‘After the Bombing’ by Clare Morrall
‘Shelter’ by Sarah Franklin Jewell [UK: Zaffre] Buy now
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