by Jessica Shattuck
Over the last couple of years, there has been a surge in fiction books set during WWII. When I saw this book, I wondered if I wanted to read another book about the Nazis. Don’t get me wrong, I love historical fiction set during WWII but that seems to be mostly what I have been reading lately. I am glad that I did read this book. It is a fine example of literary fiction. I listened to it on audio and the narrator, Cassandra Campbell, was perfect!
The book opens with a Prologue. Marianne von Lingenfels is at her husband’s ancestral castle in Northern Germany helping his aunt, Countess, prepare for the Harvest Party that will be attended by elite Germans. Marianne’s husband, Albrecht, comes from a long line of German generals and his family is prominent in German high society and very well respected. At the Harvest Party, the men disappear to meet in private and that night, Marianne becomes aware that the men are planning something. They are part of a group that, on July 20, 1944, are going to try and assassinate Hitler. Marianne promises the men that she will take care of their wives and children if their assassination attempt fails. It does fail and the story begins.
It is 1945 and the women in the title are Marianne, Benita and Ania. No nonsense, Marianne is the leader of the group. After the war, she finds Benita and Ania and brings them, and their children, to live in the now crumbling castle. The castle has fallen into disrepair after the war but at least they have a place to live. The women are very different from each other and they have secrets. The plot of The Women In The Castle is complicated and difficult to summarize, without revealing too much of the story. These very different women form a family during this difficult time but it isn’t easy. Marianne, who has had a privileged upbringing, thinks that their shared experiences of losing their husbands in the Resistance will cause them to bond. But Marianne soon learns that everything isn’t black and white and things are more complicated than she could have imagined.
This interesting, thought provoking book asks,” can you really love someone if you don’t know everything about him or her or what has been done in the past”? Can the past be forgiven? As you get to know each woman and learn of the devastating things each has endured, some of these questions become a little clearer. Readers get a feel for what life was like for ordinary Germans after the war and I liked reading a book with this different perspective. I did find that the timelines were sometimes confusing and the story got bogged down somewhat with too much detail. I also had a little bit of trouble bonding with the women but I still recommend this book.
The Women in the Castle has been compared to The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. I disagree. The Nightingale was the best book that I read in 2015 and, while I liked The Women In The Castle, it was slower than The Nightingale. I would compare it more to All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer, another fine example of literary fiction.