‘Review note: Eleanor’s Secret is an easy read but draws on specialist knowledge’, Honest History, 27 May 2018
Gentle Reader* reviews another wartime novel by Caroline Beecham
I described Caroline Beecham’s Maggie’s Kitchen (2016) as ‘technically fiction’ but with plenty of facts, too. This new book by Beecham, Eleanor’s Secret, is of similar ilk. It is a mystery riffing off the role of war artists during World War II but jumping back and forth, reasonably smoothly, between London 1942 and Melbourne 2010, exposing the impact of wartime events on a later generation.
The main character, Eleanor Roy, was prevented by her gender from pursuing her strong desire to be a war artist, despite her obvious talent. The book includes just enough detail about bureaucratic decision-making to show how this came about. There’s love interest also – Jack, an enlightened male, who tries to help Eleanor’s artistic ambitions.
Seventy years later, Eleanor asks her granddaughter, Kathryn, to help find Jack, who had disappeared from Eleanor’s life during the war. Kathryn is puzzled at the reasons for this search. And this is the basis for the mystery – a mystery which Beecham gradually works her way through
Beecham has done her research on wartime artists and this adds a layer to the book. It makes it absorbing without being overwhelming. There is a link with Maggie’s Kitchen, through Eleanor’s work in arranging for artists to paint murals in the ‘British Restaurants’, as they were known.
Gentle Reader is a Canberra lawyer who has reviewed books for Honest History.