Tappenden’s debut work of historical fiction is based on the real-life, World War II–era story of British soldier Ted “Ham and Jam” Tappenden and his wife, Florrie.
While one might expect the soldier’s heroic figure to dominate a war tale, here, it’s the soldier’s wife who steals the show. The novel opens with Florrie’s unorthodox tomboy childhood and then portrays the burgeoning relationship between her and Tappenden (then a soon-to-be soldier). Soon they’re married; he’s called to war, and Florrie’s left to navigate the trauma of repeated bombings and uncertainty at home. Meanwhile, Ted miraculously survives his part in the D-Day assault on the Pegasus and Horsa bridges. The actual events of the war skate by fleetingly in the first third of the book, but they color all the rest of it, which is dedicated to Ted and Florrie’s attempts to reignite their connection. He comes home physically unscathed but emotionally absent, and while she at first appears to be the more sound of the two, that changes as the years go on. Tappenden creates some beautiful descriptions, even in the midst of tragedy, as when he describes what Florrie sees after a German plane crashes just two doors down from her house: “[S]he recognised a large piece of red chimney pot lying like a wound amongst the dark green cauliflowers and, nearby, a sliver of tile, razor sharp, was embedded in the trunk of an apple tree.” Tappenden’s best work, however, sometimes gets lost in a penchant for overwrought descriptions. He also skips a few vital reference points, sometimes leaving the reader wondering what decade it is, and he never provides the source material for the story—or how much might be imagined to fill in the gaps.
World War II buffs may enjoy a glimpse into the lives of real people not just during, but after the war—and current veterans or those who love them may find the intergenerational similarities intriguing.