Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves by Rachel Malik
Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves is a heartwarming and intriguing historical novel about the relationship between the eponymous women and how an unexpected houseguest made for a drastic situation for them both. When Elsie Boston gets Rene Hargreaves as her Land Girl during the Second World War to help run her family’s farm, now entirely left under her control, she doesn’t foresee that from then on, they will share their lives together. Inspired by true details about the author’s grandmother, the novel is a character focused story of life, hardship, and a sudden crime.
After a mysterious prologue, the book starts off like a wartime home front historical novel, showing how Elsie and Rene meet and work together, but when Elsie loses her farm and they are forced to move around as farmworkers, it turns into something else, a saga of their lives together and how they end up with an uncongenial visitor and the weight of the law and the press against them. The core of the novel is the two characters, with Malik slowing building up detail about them. Rene’s past and her escape from her husband and children is classic historical novel material, but it is also at how the war could change lives in ways that would be irrevocably different when it was over. It is not a war novel however, but one more focused upon a longer span of time and on how the characters lived their lives and didn’t quite adapt to the modern world. The writing style is straightforward and detailed, building at a slow pace that really unfurls a vivid world, a world in which most other people are excluded.
This is a slowly revealed and moving novel full of small details, with an appeal that stretches beyond its historical setting to anyone who enjoys reading about characters and carefully drawn relationships. Heartwarming and at times tense, this is the kind of novel to curl up with and escape the modern world.