Without doubt this would have to rank amongst the top ten books you must read this year. Set just after the end of the Second World War Marguerite Carter returns to England in order to study to become a teacher. This is a powerful book based in historic fact, during a time when the old order no longer held true and new ideas where there for the learning, experimenting and the challenge.
The rise of Margaret Thatcher from an shy young Labour candidate to the leader of the nation, gay rights, the freedom of the sixties and the challenges of settling back into life after years of disconnection during and after the second world war, are all beautifully woven into this story of one woman’s vision for her future and the students in her care. This is her quest to make a difference as the world changes and moves ever closer to yet another burgeoning war.
We meet Marguerite on her interview day for the position of English Teacher at the Dartford County Grammar School for Girls. She is pinning up her unruly hair, straightening her ‘teachers outfit’, generally trying to make herself look like the right person for the job.
As a former member of the SOE spending her war time behind enemy lines in command of a partisan group of French fighters, she is determined to be able to make a difference to the future and fight for social justice.
Her delight at getting the job and becoming Miss Carter, English is overwhelming but reassures her that she has definitely taken the right pathway, that of teaching. On day one she meets her class of students, some from well to do families and several there on post war scholarships, discovering the real truth of being a teacher, that of engaging the students and maintaining their interests. Something she is finding difficult with a number of the girls from war torn families.
As time goes on and Miss Carter settles into her work, she develops an friendship with Tony Stansfield, Sport, and while not exactly falling in love, develops feeling for him which are strong and stand the test of time well.
They find they have common interests in social justice; he is a staunch labour man and she believes very strongly in equality for all.
Together they attend the peace marches of the fifties, charge through the swinging sixties and become involve in the battle and understanding of gay rights. Tony meets the love of his life in dancer Donald, who accepts her into their life as special friend of Tony’s. AIDS raises its ugly head in the eighties with Donald being diagnosed with the illness. His terrifying death leaves both Tony and Marguerite shattered.
Marguerite is also having trouble handling her affair with Jimmy who struggles to manage his life after the war, hiding behind a fabric of lies, alcohol and depression, which also finally takes its toll on Marguerite.
During her resistance days she fell in love with Marcel, leader of the partisan group. This was to be the love that was to last a lifetime. Thought the depths of her despair at the way her life has changed so radically from the young woman who wanted to take on the world, to an aging woman who has lost everything, she decides to try and retrace her steps in France during the war, revisit old places and try to find Marcel; a decision that was to change her destiny.