After the Bombing by Clare Morrall
Published in 2014, After the Bombing centres on the effects of German bombing in Exeter in 1942. This was carried out in retaliation for the allies’ bombing of Lubeck . The book opens as the bombs rain down on Exeter and concentrates on Alma Braithwaite, a pupil at Goldwyn’s School for Girls, and her friends. As a consequence of what happens that night, Alma’s life is changed forever and the rest of the book shows us how she deals with the aftermath of this and other traumatic events.
The narrative alternates between 1942 and 21 years later, 1963. Alma is seen in 1942 as a 15 year old schoolgirl and in 1963, as a school teacher at Goldwyn’s. She has never come to terms with the losses she suffered and has retreated into the stability and security of her old school and family house. She has resisted change and kept her old home as it was.
The catalyst for change arrives in 1963 in the form of a new headmistress, Wilhemina Yates, who is out to reform the school. The pace of the novel is slow and it is only gradually that we learn of her backstory. The conflict between the two women shows how they have reacted in very different ways to events in their adolescence. A new pupil at the school turns out to be the daughter of Robert Gunner in whose Halls of Residence, Alma and her friends were billeted, back in 1942, following the bombing. The memories of Alma’s time there slowly unfold and the links between characters are revealed.
This was a book with an interesting narrative structure. I did not find the characters particularly likeable or appealing but they each had a story to tell. The pace of the two strands in time was similar and I think that it would have been more effective to vary the tone of the two periods. However perhaps that sufficed to emphasise that for Alma, time has stood still.
In short: an effective story showing how loss and trauma can mould an individual.