Book Reviews

The London Restoration by Rachel McMillan | Book Review

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London, Fall 1945. Architectural historian Diana Somerville’s experience as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park and her knowledge of London’s churches intersect in MI6’s pursuit of a Russian agent named Eternity. Diana wants nothing more than to begin again with her husband Brent after their separation during the war, but her signing of the Official Secrets Act keeps him at a distance.

Brent Somerville, professor of theology at King’s College, hopes aiding his wife with her church consultations will help him better understand why she disappeared when he needed her most. But he must find a way to reconcile his traumatic experiences as a stretcher bearer on the European front with her obvious lies about her wartime activities and whereabouts. 

The separation of husbands and wives during war is something I have not thought extensively about. Sure, as a student of history in Canada there’s always discussion about life on the home front, but it was different in Canada during the war than it would have been in England. We had no bombs, first of all, no Bletchley Park. The women here made sacrifices, but nothing to the extent that women overseas did, and they were much more involved than we could ever imagine. That’s one of the things about this book that I enjoyed reading the most.

In a passage near the end of the book, our two main characters, Brent and Diana, are comparing their experiences during the war. Diana knows that Brent is no longer the man she married, but Brent has just come to the realisation that Diana is also no longer the woman he married. Because she cannot talk about it, it puts strains on their relationship. While Diana was always worried about Brent while he was in France, her safety wasn’t something to worry about because hypothetically, she was seemingly in no danger. But she did things that changed her, made relationships that didn’t involve him, and worked with people and information that he wasn’t privy to. So when the war ends and they both are looking forward to being actually properly married, they are relearning how to be with each other and how to fit back together as two entirely different people than when the relationship began.

I’m a big architecture geek, so that aspect of this book is what drew me to reading it in the first place. I adore Christopher Wren, just like Diana does, and could read books upon books filled with descriptions of the churches he designed. And that’s why Diana and her passion are the greatest part of the book for me. Not to mention the fact that I also love stories about Bletchley Park and the women who worked there, but Diana is living the life that I would have wanted to live had I been around (and in England) during the war. Sure, I’m not keen on the Russian spies, the secrecy, or the being underutilized and underappreciated as a woman, but I really loved her story and the trajectory her life took. Even when she’s struggling in her marriage and struggling to choose between the domestic life she initially wanted and the new, secret, Christopher Wren-filled existence she gained after the fact, I thought she was headstrong, confident, and knew her worth.

The writing was good and pretty standard for historical WWII novels. After initially picking it up and getting into it, it slogged a tiny bit and I found myself skimming or reading quite quickly in order to move things along faster. After the 50% mark however, I found myself slowing down again and wanting to take in every word to make sure I didn’t miss a thing. There were a lot of back and forths in the chapters in this book, and to be perfectly honest, I didn’t really mind at all – which is shocking, on my part, believe me. I am not usually a fan of flipping back and forth on a timeline, especially when the said timelines were so close together as these ones were. Another thing I also found I enjoyed was Brent’s perspective, nearly as much as I enjoyed Diana’s. While she’s the one with the secrets that she cannot share, we also get to experience his perspective on the side of not knowing things, which certainly built sympathy for his character. Otherwise, I likely would have found myself siding with Diana most of the time.

Anyway, I enjoyed this book quite a bit, and would happily have it on my shelf to revisit later on. It’s unique enough that I find it stands out amongst books of its kind, and there isn’t just one plot given all of the attention, but rather a variety of underlying plots as well that you almost find yourself caring for and wondering about the conclusion of more. Diana Foyle, like the bookshop on Charing Cross Road, is probably my favorite character I’ve come across in the many WWII novels I’ve read. I’d happily read a sequel of her and Brent’s life in Vienna should the author ever decide to write one (this is me saying the author should definitely write one).

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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