My review of Public Battles Private Wars by Laura Wilkinson
Public Battles, Private Wars is a novel is right up my street. I mainly chose to read it because of its setting in Yorkshire. I remember the miners’ strike in 1983 so well and I knew someone on both sides of the conflict; My uncle was a policeman who was sent to one of the mining villages, and the father of one of my friend’s was a minor on strike.
It was a hard time and Laura Wilkinson expertly captures the politics and tension within this community, the roles expected of women both in the home and in society and, equally, the personal battles between friends and families.
Told from the protagonist’s point of view, Mandy Walker, the narrative moves steadily and is threaded through with many themes: of loyalty, love, relationships, political divisions, disillusionment. Even knowing the final outcome of this fiction built on fact book, the reader is pulled along: from the buoyant belief that the minors will be able to fight the decisions made by Margaret Thatcher’s Government, through the physical pain of grinding poverty and to the villagers’ gradual realisation that the life they have always known is gone for good. Until finally, there is a reluctant acceptance for what cannot be changed.
The characters are rounded and each, in their own way, grows within the story. Mandy is initially revealed as a fraught, insecure wife and mother, a woman at the end of her tether. But one who, through the adversity, is forced to confront the truth of her life and find the inner strength to go in a new and unexpected direction. And the sub plot, the life-long friendship between Mandy and Ruth Braithwaite (held up by the protagonist as someone to aspire to emulate) reinforces the main plot and is used to strengthen that change in Mandy. She sees the weakness in Ruth and the balance of their friendship is inevitably tipped. It is through Mandy we see the hope of the future.
The sparing dialogue, although not in dialect (thank goodness!) brilliantly places the novel in Yorkshire and underlines the portrayal of the characters: the tough Braithwaite family, Mandy’s sulky, hard-drinking husband, Rob and even minor characters such as their next-door neighbour, Doug..
The author writes brilliantly evocative descriptions of each setting that the characters move through; the village, the moors surrounding, individual houses and the community hall. All bring such a sense of place that I was able to picture each setting, imagine the atmosphere, feel the stress. Yet there is always the humour, both in the dialogue and in the narrative.
What a treat this book was for me. I have no hesitation in recommending Public Wars, Private Battles. Well worth five stars.