Joan Bakewell - All the Nice Girls (3 stars)

Joan Bakewell - All the Nice Girls

(Virago)

WARTIME DRAMA

Much like the time period it’s set within, the passion and intrigue in Joan Bakewell’s first novel hides behind a stodgy façade of 1940s wartime repression and tightly buttoned morals. Set in a prim girls’ school, the jolly hockey sticks atmosphere does grate at points, until the headmistress, a straight-backed but serenely elegant sort, falls in love with a married Merchant Navy captain. Frosty tut-tutting from her religious mother and gossiping students present a dilemma as she must weigh up her chance at happiness against doing ‘the right thing’.

‘Thinking man’s crumpet’ and well-respected broadcaster Bakewell has waited until her seventies before attempting fiction. Her journalism background is obvious in passages heavy in naval detail or contentious politics of the day, but lighter passages – where romance blossoms at tea dances, or aphrodisiac mugs of Bovril lead to clumsy shore-leave fumbles – show a warmth to her writing, cautiously trying to break free from its serious shackles.

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