by Sarah Franklin
Shelter, the first novel by Sarah Franklin, begins in England during the spring of 1944, mixing emotive prose and extensive research. Its heroine is Connie Granger, one of the “nattering girls” who step off a train and become “lumberjills”: female lumberjacks who replace the men at war. For Connie, being a lumberjill releases her from a grim, urban Coventry made bearable only by a loving family. Damaged but tough, Connie is a fighter and a lover, though she doesn’t find romance until a chance encounter with Seppe. An Italian prisoner of war, he is “made to pay for the sins he’d been compelled to commit” in a POW camp.
Seppe’s frailties match Connie’s – a violent father, an emotionally stunted past and post-traumatic stress disorder long before the term was invented. Their meeting is inevitable, but proves emotionally fraught; their desperate attempts to build a life together, and with their young son, echo wider attempts to reconstruct the world beyond their small corner of England.
Shelter is wholehearted, accomplished and moving. An impressive debut.