My 12 in 12 Challenge – April – Historical Novels – Book 7

Like my previous historical novel in my 12 in 12 Challenge which was Burnt Shadows my seventh book is set in WW2 but this book takes place over a much shorter timeframe and finishes before the war does. The book is Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan and was recommended to me by a member of staff at Read in Holmfirth which is probably my nearest independent bookshop. I am glad that they did because I found it a fascinating read.

The book centres on Anna, her father and a small time mobster called Dexter Styles. Anna visits Dexter with her father when she is young in a memorable day after which her father changes his attitude to her and later disappears suddenly from the family home. Anna meets Styles again when she is involved in war work at the shipyard in New York and she visits a club he owns. Later Styles is able to reveal to her what happened to her father.

There are lots of different story threads in this book other than the main one. Anna has a learning disabled sister who the family care for and she has an aunt with a lifestyle which doesn’t match that of the family. Anna wants to be a diver and part of the book concentrates on this ambition and what it is like to be one of the first female divers. Styles is trying to build his own empire but is under the control of the mob and beginning to see if he can change what he does. Anna’s father has his own narrative thread which I won’t spoil for you but which also is quite unexpected.

I thought that the author did all these different stories well. I liked how the characters intertwined and had their own narratives. I enjoyed how everything came together at the end so that you understood what had happened even if the characters only really know some of the overall picture. I found it very satisfying.

This is a really good novel, It is an excellent read and you are never quite sure what the author is going to do next with her characters. I thought that the characters were well portrayed and I liked the fact that they each saw events in a slightly different way. The character of Anna holds the book together and I thought that she was really three dimensional. The research into the history of the time has been well done and the author avoids dumping information on you but just gives you enough to get a picture of the time and the environment.

Definitely worth a read.