Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Book Review: Secrets of The Singer Girls

I've read some super historical novels in the last year, and was looking forward to reading another book set in the 1940s.  'Secrets of the Singer Girls' is Kate Thompson's first novel and is a tale from the homefront.  Set in London's East End during WWII, the story follows a group of women working in a factory, sewing bandages and uniforms for the war effort.  Friendships are formed and tested, and war claims casualities in inumerable ways in this most enjoyable tale of female caramaderie.

Secrets of the Singer Girls

"1942.  Sixteen-year old Poppy Percival arrives at the gates of Trout's clothing factory in Bethnal Green, ready to begin a new life as an East End seamstress.  Forced to leave her quiet countryside home, and banished to a war-ravaged London, Poppy harbours a dark secret - one that tore her away from all she knew."

It turns out that it's not just Poppy who's hiding secrets - most of the women she meets and befriends at the factory also seem to have secrets lurking in their past, and these are gradually revealed over the story.

I did find that the story took a little while to get going - the first character we're introduced to is meek Poppy, and in those initial few chapters following her perspective I found some of the descriptions a little lack-lustre and repetitive, and I worried that I was going to find the characters, story and settings a bit 'thin'.  How wrong I was though.  It was well worth persevering, as Thompson really hits her stride later in the book.  The story gains so much momentum emotionally that I must have sobbed and sniffed through the entire last third of it!  Some of the female characters - Vera in particular - are excellent, complex souls.  I think the men, as secondary characters, aren't quite as well drawn, either being completely 'bad' or 'good'.  Having said that, these are all things that I can easily forgive as long as there's a good story and the setting has been well researched.

Thompson has obviously done her homework, with some lovely references to wartime details such as baths in no more than 5 inches of water and 'squanderbugs'.  The guts of the story is also very engaging, tugging on the heart strings with the relentless hardships that find the women, and I found myself turning pages faster and faster.  It may not be a book full of pretty prose, but it excels as a narrative - something the last few 'literary' books I've read have been sorely lacking.

One not just for fans of the 1940s but also for those who enjoy tales of women triumphing together over adversity.  The war-torn East End comes to life and Secrets of the Singer Girls has an emotional momentum that will keep you up late trying to finish it. 

I received a copy for review, but as always, views are my own!  Secrets of the Singer Girls is out now on Pan Macmillan.

P.S. Make sure you read the 'Writing the book' chapter at the end of the story, for an understanding of the real historical events and characters that inspired the book, including the civilian disaster at Bethnal Green tube station that claimed 173 lives.


  1. My dear..
    This is yet another book, and yet another reason, that make me "uuugh" because I can't read it - since I live far away and I'm not able to aquire it.
    It sounds like a great thing.


  2. The story sounds great but am I alone in cringing at the cover and, more specifically, that tag-line?! Quite possibly, book covers are something I have a lot to say on, which sometimes I'm even paid for, so I naturally think I'm right :D xx

    1. I agree that the cover isn't the greatest, it's a little cheesy perhaps. It doesn't look 'serious' enough, because once you whip past the first few chapters, you get into some really well-researched stuff, which doesn't really fit with the cover. Of course you're right! xx

  3. I read a book a bit like this not long ago, with a similar cover and style. It was about girls who worked in a department store from the forties to the sixties. I think my review would be similar to yours for this book. If you look beyond the cheesiness it's nice to have a light read and hear stories of times gone by.

    Hayley Ann x

  4. I was thinking the same about the cover!

    1. A good job I don't judge a book by it's cover, eh?! x

  5. I agree about the cover - it's dreadful, and doesn't look as though it does the book justice.
    For incredibly powerful descriptions of women's lives during WW2, Kate Atkinson's Life After Life or Sarah Waters' The Night Watch are hard to beat. Or City of Women by David Gilham, set in Berlin, for a German perspective. xx

    1. I haven't read the Night Watch but am a fan indeed of Sarah Waters. Thanks for the other recommendations, always appreciated! x

  6. Ditto on the cover front from me. Lovely review! It sounds like a very enjoyable read though and that there there are some parallels between this tale and that of the all too short lived Bomb Girls TV series that was produced here in Canada.

    ♥ Jessica

  7. Sounds like a good read, and what a great setting!
    A British perspective about WWII is something I was less exposed to - ss a Jewish girl living in Israel, I learned at school mostly about the Jews in Europe during a war. So I guess I should give it a try!
    Added to my to-read list :)

    (from A Golden Picnic)

  8. I agree about the cover but it still sounds like a great read! Thanks for sharing your review!

    Doused In Pink

  9. Historical fiction is my favorite genre! I'll have to check this one out!

  10. I'd never pick up that book if I saw it in a charity shop, the cover really is dreadful.
    Restless by William Boyd is my favourite book set in that era, the heroine isn't British but she's incredibly feisty. x

  11. Sounds really interesting, I think it's time for me to pick up a new book too

    Pink Wings

  12. Sounds worth a read! Thanks for sharing :)


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