With girls called Alma, Curls, Natalie and Giraffe and a girls boarding school as the setting, the start of After the Bombing could have been the beginning of an Enid Blyton type school story. However, as the boarders of Goldwyn's school are rushed to the air raid shelter everything is about to change for them. This is Exeter on 3rd May 1942 - the night of one of the Baedeker raids when, in retaliation for the bombing of Lübeck, German bombers attacked historical English cities given a 3 star or above rating in the Baedeker Tourist Guide. When the girls emerge from the shelter later half their school has been destroyed and Exeter city centre is in ruins. Destruction and as we soon learn, death, has burst into their previously safe lives.
Twenty one years later and Alma is now a teacher at Goldwyn's. Living alone in her old family house, she believes herself to be content until the death of the long serving headmistress brings a sudden change in the form of Miss Yates who is determined to modernise Goldwyn's. With the arrival too of a new pupil, the daughter of Robert Gunner, a man Alma hasn't seen since 1942 she is forced look back on a time when she and her friends suffered terrible losses whilst still experiencing the exuberance of being girls on the cusp of womanhood.
The story switches between the summer of 1942 and 1963 and is a moving study of the long term effect the war had on those at home, particularly young women. Clare Morrall writes people very well; with their quirks and their inner dialogues, there aren't good and bad guys in this book but real people with dreams, regrets and flaws. It was an easy book to read - by which I mean it was a believable world which I could easily immerse myself in, yet the complexity of the characters meant it was also a poignant and enthralling read and one I very much enjoyed.
Disclosure: I received my copy of this book through Netgalley in return for my honest review.
After the Bombing will be published by Sceptre on 27th March 2014.