Lee, in her debut novel, fictionalizes the story of her English grandmother’s life.
In the early 20th century in Church Stretton, Shropshire, England, Mary Eileen, nicknamed Mollie, lives with her brothers, Les and Fred, and their loving parents. Although generally content, she wishes her legs weren’t quite so short; as she and her peers mature, her girlfriends find boyfriends, but Mollie remains unattached. During World War II, she takes on the local milk route, earning the nickname of “Mollie the Milk” and enduring good-natured teasing about finding her “cream.” She spies young soldier Jack Meredith home on leave, and, one day, he invites her for a drink. They soon marry, but after Jack leaves, he does not return from the battlefield. She meets another suitor, mechanic Bill Cooke, and is initially hesitant, but she heeds the advice from her mum, who asks her, “[H]ow many nice, down-to-earth and unmarried Shropshire lads do you expect to meet?” After marrying again, Mollie begins to raise a family, encountering joy and heartbreak. As her life goes on, she finds simple pleasures in her collectibles, her grandchildren, and her seemingly supernatural connection to nature and spirits—including communion with fairies. This first-person tale is a loving and heartfelt tribute to Lee’s grandmother, drawing upon Mollie’s history and bringing her thoughts to life in an upbeat, chatty manner. Despite occasional unclear phrasing, the story flows well. Mollie is a spunky character, given to flights of fancy, while those in her orbit seem more like framed photos on a mantelpiece. The book’s final third, however, focuses primarily on Mollie’s physical and mental decline; the theme of cancer figures predominantly in this section, and it’s given voice in an inspiring manner.
A well-told story of one woman’s life, with appealing supernatural undercurrents.