I must admit that when I began to read this book, set in London in 1942/3, I felt that it moved rather slowly but I was proved wrong in this impression. Alicia Foster`s characters are fascinating and detailed: the flamboyant Dame Laura Knight , the diffident Faith Farr and the retiring Cecily Browne, three lady artists employed by the War Artists Advisory Committee (WAAC) under the command of Sir Kenneth Clarke, to ensure the survival of British art during the early part of the WW2. We follow the very different characters as the artists strive to carry out their given task – to complete stoic and cheerful representations of the events at home(the “right sort of art”), in spite of the stark realities around them . They are united in their dislike of Aubrey Smith, the underling at the Ministry who has been appointed to oversee their efforts – he is bumptious, self- important and given to completely missing the point of their pictures.
Faith Farr provides the link to Black, a top secret counter-propaganda group operating in a villa at Aspley Guise in Bedfordshire, run by Sam Thayer. His wife Vivienne is involved with their German translator and Sam also indulges in dalliance with ladies from nearby Bletchley. This group fabricates leaflets, produces film and radio plays for the German public to weaken their support for the Nazis: some of their methods are both personal and very cruel. One of their number is not the person he portrays and it is he who is Faith`s and Vivienne`s nemesis.
In fact, the theme throughout the book is that of nothing appearing as it really is. Each character and situation has, when looked into more closely, a deeper and often sinister life. Even the minor characters display this trait to a lesser extent. I found the book thoroughly enjoyable and Alicia Foster`s use of real people to weave her story around is masterful. Sir Kenneth Clark did chair the WAAC during the war: Dame Laura Knight produced many paintings for WAAC: the other two painters are based on Grace Golden and Evelyn Dunbar. Their real lives and their personages in the book are smoothly intertwined by Alicia Foster to make a very atmospheric and absorbing read.
I enjoyed the book immensely. Thank you, Alicia Foster.
Review by Liz.
Thank you to Penguin for sending us a copy to review