Darling Blue by Tracy Rees - book review: The perfect read for winter nights…

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The lives of three very different women battling convention and prejudice in 1920s London take centre stage in an enchanting novel from Welsh author Tracy Rees.

Darling Blue is the fourth book from Rees – whose debut novel Amy Snow won the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller Competition in 2015 – and she is fast gaining a reputation as a fresh and inventive writer with a sharp eye and a warm heart.

Here she sweeps us away to leafy, upmarket Richmond in a city still reeling from the dark shadows of a devastating war but eager to rekindle the light of hope and the joy of new beginnings.

Packed with drama, romance and vividly drawn characters, this beautifully imagined and evocative story of love and life, kindness and cruelty, explores the social realities for women from both sides of the tracks in the early decades of the 20th century.

Blue Camberwell would appear to have a charmed existence at her family’s luxurious town house, Ryan’s Castle, in leafy, lovely Richmond. Her wealthy, larger-than-life father Kenneth adores her and she couldn't want for anything… but there are dark shadows hanging over her past.

On the night of her twenty-first birthday, her father makes a startling announcement… just as in the fairy tales that Blue once loved, he will give his daughter’s hand to whichever man can capture her heart best in the form of a love letter.

Blue, of course, is a thoroughly modern young woman and has other ideas about her future, not least her long-held desire to be a writer, and she has no intention of being ‘sold’ into marriage.When she crosses paths with Delphine Foley, a working class woman escaping a brutal husband, she offers her a safe refuge at Ryan’s Castle and forms a close friendship.

Meanwhile, Blue’s stepmother Midge feels she will never match up to Kenneth’s beautiful, accomplished first wife and is harbouring a terrible secret.

As for Blue, she finds herself unexpectedly intrigued by the love letters that have started to arrive since her father’s invitation to possible suitors...

Will these three women escape events of the past and finally find the means to forge their own destinies?Utterly charming, rich in period detail and gloriously entertaining, Darling Blue is a

warm and authentic story but it is also steeped in the author’s psychological wisdom and an emotional depth that raises it above a standard romance.

Each character is beautifully portrayed as Rees presents us with an acute observation of women’s social, moral and personal issues within the context of both work and family life in the Twenties.

Despite her wealth and privileged upbringing, Blue has a social conscience that informs both her outlook on life, her desire for independence, and her ambitions to become an author.

And writing, in one form or another, is certainly writ large in this absorbing novel… it is a means of personal expression, a healing force, and a vital channel for inspiration and female empowerment.

The perfect read for winter nights…

(Quercus, paperback, £7.99)