Thursday, May 5, 2011

REVIEW: The Linen Queen by Patricia Falvey

It's 1941 and Sheila McGee wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of her life as a mill worker in Northern Ireland. Stuck living with her selfish, unloving mother and living off the charity of her religious Aunt and her boorish drunken lout of a husband, escaping is all Sheila dreams about every day as she spins fabric at the mill. Finally, an opportunity presents itself in the form of the Linen Queen competition-a pageant with enough prize money for Sheila to make her long sought after escape to England. Just as Sheila is about to realize her dream, the war in Europe reaches her little corner of the world and snatches it away as a large group of American Soldiers make their camp in her hometown. Now Sheila's only hope for escape is to catch the eye of an American Officer in the hopes of securing a marriage proposal. She meets the dashing Joel Solomon, a Jewish-American Army officer who shows her kindness and opens her eyes to the atrocities being committed against the Jewish people in Europe. Sheila must decide where her priorities lie-with Joel or her childhood friend Gavin? With her mother or Grainne-the young girl evacuated from Belfast that Sheila reluctantly accepts responsibility for? As she faces the realities of the war raging around her, Sheila must struggle to make decisions that will affect her entire future.

I have to admit, I didn't care for how this book started off. Sheila comes off as very self centered and places herself above her fellow mill girls because of her looks. She encounters a bit of opposition when getting chosen to compete in the contest but once this is overcome it seems her ascent to Linen Queen was a bit rushed. This contest is supposed to be a big deal but the whole thing is decided on looks and the answer to one question? I found that a bit hard to swallow.

After Sheila is awarded the title of Linen Queen (and earns the jealousy of the other girls) things start to pick up when Belfast is bombed and the American Soldiers come to town. It was at this point when the characters of Joel Solomon (the Jewish-American Officer) and Grainne (the evacuee from Belfast) are introduced that the novel really picked up. Falvey does an exceptional job of bringing to life Northern Ireland during this time-the division and political/religious differences between Northern Ireland and the Free State, the conflicts between the poor and the more well to do, the strict social conventions (especially for women) during this time-all are brought alive brilliantly here. Not surprisingly, a few of the local girls end up with a bun in the oven after the Americans come to town and the treatment these young ladies receive by the clergy and their fellow citizens was absolutely appalling. Although the novel moves through this vivid history with slightly immature (and sometimes annoying) Sheila at the helm, she starts to grow quite a bit as she realizes that there is more to life than her ambitions-the people around her, the plight of her country, and the outcome of the war are all things that matter a great deal. I genuinely felt sorry for Sheila in her dealings with her mother-a narcissistic creature whose only concern for Sheila is the money her daughter can provide her by working at the mill. I also was touched by the bond she forms with Grainne and her willingness to risk her own happiness to help the young girl out.

The romance is not lacking here either as Sheila grows closer to Joel Solomon but also harbors feelings for Gavin-her best friend who may be something more. I honestly liked both of these gentlemen quite a bit and couldn't decide who I would like Sheila to end up with. I may not have cared for her much at all in the beginning but I really grew to appreciate the person Sheila grew into during this story. By the end I was really rooting for her to find her happy ending. I think I just would have enjoyed it a bit more if things didn't come to Sheila so easily solely because of her looks and also if she was a bit more likable in the first half of the book.

Received from publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review


  1. Very nice, honest review. Not sure I could have put up with an aggravating heroine but since she grows, I'll keep it in mind and not give up on it too early!

  2. This sounds like a really interesting plot... I'll have to check it out. It sounds like a very different way of looking at WWII.

  3. I absolutely loved this book! I think Sheila was so unlikable at the start so we would see how she changed over time. I hope it's okay to link to your review on War Through the Generations.