The English Girl by Margaret Leroy is a historical novel set in Vienna in the 1930s, right before World War Two breaks out.
Our leading lady, young Stella Whittaker is given the opportunity to study at the Academy of Music and Performing Arts and jumps at the chance to get away from her sheltered life, moving to Vienna and given housing by family friends.
Soon enough after settling in, Stella falls for a Jewish doctor in a time where anti-semitism was fast on the rise, even from friends and family, casting a foreboding glare across the book for the reader. It’s very effective in creating tension, though it’s hardly a suspenseful book. We know how badly things are going to get and we care because of how believable the characters are.
The characterisation is excellent all round, with everyone coming across as believable and driven but flawed, particularly Stella, who, while optimistic in the face of dark times, is still occasionally selfish and rash, but she’s only seventeen so it helps her appear realistic and keeps her interesting.
Then we have the background characters who provide our inside into the quiet, lurking bigotry that was on the rise in an occasionally chilling way, made worse by how real they all feel.
It’s a thoroughly enjoyable book, despite the unavoidable dark undertones. The writing style is simple and effective with some lovely descriptions of the city that capture Stella’s wonder and adoration of the place but for the most part it’s precise and not very elaborate, which is fine by me and suits the book just fine.
It’s a book that very much accomplishes what it set out to do. The story is dark, compelling and believable, just as the characters are flawed and well realised. It’s well worth picking up if it’s a genre that interests you.
This review was originally posted at SentientOnline on the 2nd February 2014.