Clara Button is no ordinary librarian. While the world remains at war, in East London Clara has created the country’s only underground library, built over the tracks in the disused Bethnal Green tube station. Down here a secret community thrives: with thousands of bunk beds, a nursery, a café and a theatre offering shelter, solace and escape from the bombs that fall above.
Along with her glamorous best friend and library assistant Ruby Munroe, Clara ensures the library is the beating heart of life underground. But as the war drags on, the women’s determination to remain strong in the face of adversity is tested to the limits when it seems it may come at the price of keeping those closest to them alive.
Based on true events, The Little Wartime Library is a gripping and heart-wrenching page-turner that remembers one of the greatest resistance stories of the war.
When I received the email offering the opportunity to read and review The Little Wartime Library I jumped at the opportunity. It ticked so many boxes. Its set in one of my favourite periods of history, World War Two, then there is the fact that the story revolves around a library, in the underground which is run by two female librarians. It literally called out to my bookish heart and I couldn’t wait to dive in.
I was not disappointed, because within it’s pages is a story about friendship, love and the power of reading to change lives. It is both emotional and funny with the author bringing history to life within a very entertaining read. What I really loved was how the historical detail was woven into the story, without any loss of pace and entertainment. Sometimes when a author becomes bogged down in historical detail, they forget that they are meant to enthrall the reader. But Kate Thompson manages to avoid that. She brings the complex and often frightening reality of the lives of her characters to the page in vivid detail. The reality of war is played out within her story, without losing sight of the emotions and personalities of Clara, Ruby and the myriad of supporting characters.
Both women are very different people, yet they work perfectly together, supporting each other when most needed. It was one of the things I most loved about The Little Wartime Library, that very human characteristic that at the toughest of times, friendship not only sustains us, but fulfils that need we all have to feel loved. It is a story that does ultimately makes you feel good, because whatever the fate of each character, it’s about their ability to overcome difficult times and see their way through to peacetime. We all need books that make us feel good from time to time, but don’t do so by sacrificing the quality of the story and this novel certainly does the first without the second. It is warm hearted, without dovetailing the reader into saccharine nature of some historical drama’s.
Here the female characters are strong, intelligent and yes love is involved, but it doesn’t turn them into caricatures of themselves, because they remain throughout intelligent, stoic and ever so real. We feel their frustrations, we see they are flawed, but celebrate the fact that they are good people who are passionate about books and stories. They want to take that passion to the factory workers, the people living within the underground and are prepared to face whatever war throws at them to do that. It really does feel good to turn over the next page and lose yourself in the story.
You can purchase this novel from Amazon and Waterstones, as well as the wonderful independent bookshops we are so lucky to have in this country.
About the author
Kate Thompson was born in London in 1974, and worked as a journalist for twenty years on women’s magazines and national newspapers. She now lives in Sunbury with her husband, two sons and a Lurcher called Ted. After ghost writing five memoirs, Kate moved into fiction. Kate’s first non-fiction social history documenting the forgotten histories of East End matriarchy, The Stepney Doorstep Society, was published in 2018 by Penguin. Her seventh novel, The Little Wartime Library is to be published by Hodder & Stoughton in the spring of 2022.
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