The Blue of the title is Ishbel Camberwell but Darling Blue by Tracy Rees is not the story of one woman but three. Although the main voice is that of Blue’s, this is really an ensemble piece about a year in the life of a wealthy family living in Richmond-upon-Thames in the 1920s. At her 21st birthday party, Blue’s father makes a startling announcement. Suitors interested in marrying Blue must woo her by letter within the next twelve months. Blue, who wants to be a writer and has no pressing desire to marry, is horrified by her father’s challenge. She’s even more appalled when she receives three letters. Determined to make her own decisions, she gets a temporary job as a reporter on the local newspaper.
Delphine Foley is trapped in a violent marriage. Desperate to escape and determined to protect her mother and sister from potential threats from her husband, she forges a secret plan. When her plan takes an unexpected turn, she finds herself in Richmond-upon-Thames, a beautiful place only miles from where she lived but somewhere she didn’t know existed. When an accident throws her into the path of the Camberwell family, she senses a chance of a new start.
The third woman whose story this is, is Midge, Blue’s step-mother, who spends the first part of the book involved in a plan to redecorate their grand townhouse, Ryan’s Castle. As a new bride, her husband Kenneth brought her home to the house he shared with his first wife Audra. The presence of the deceased Audra remains and puts pressure on Midge’s sense of inferiority and she becomes more lost as the story progresses.
The character I found most fascinating was Delphine, a stranger whose path crosses with the Camberwell family in the most unexpected manner. An enjoyable and quick read, this is by no means a Bright Young Things light portrayal of the Twenties. The author lived in Richmond and it shows in her accurate portrait of the town. The story is set in a time of confusion and change as the effects of the Great War continue to affect the population, with opportunities and hardships affecting people unequally. Blue is accused of taking work away from ex-soldiers when she doesn’t need the money. Workers are about to go on strike, and domestic violence and prejudice against homosexuals add darker undertones.
Tracy Rees always tells a good story built on a solid historical foundation and Darling Blue is no different. Despite the romantic cover design, there is a strong focus on the lives of women and their struggles to overcome their lot in life, featuring experiences not identified at the time but recognised now a century later.
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Note: I bought this hardback copy of Darling Blue in the Book Aid for Ukraine charity auction in spring 2022. The book is now published as The Love Note.
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
DARLING BLUE by @AuthorTracyRees #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5ML via @SandraDanby