Every time I pick up a Persephone book I’m amazed by the diversity of the books they publish. The Blank Wall, written by the American author Elisabeth Sanxay Holding and originally published in 1947, is completely different to the others I’ve read, in terms of both plot and overall feel.
The Blank Wall is a suspense novel set during World War II. Lucia Holley is living with her two teenage children and her father in their lakeside home, while her husband, Tom, is serving in the navy somewhere in the Pacific. Her daughter, Bee, has been having an affair with an older man who Lucia considers to be entirely unsuitable. Things quickly start to spiral out of control and Lucia finds herself involved in murder, blackmail and a series of other crimes, all of which she attempts to conceal from her family. But as she desperately tries to protect her loved ones and avoid a scandal, could Lucia actually be putting herself and others in danger?
With the story being told from Lucia’s perspective, we are given lots of insights into her thought processes as she tries to cope with the disruption to her previously peaceful life. I could really feel Lucia’s fear and panic as everything seemed to be closing in around her. I didn’t always understand her actions and there were times when I felt frustrated with her because some of her decisions were clearly silly and irrational, but it was an interesting study into the way a 1940s woman of Lucia’s class and background might have reacted. It was easy to see why Lucia felt under so much pressure. She was doing her best to take care of her family during wartime and provide meals for them despite rationing and shortages, as well as trying to solve their personal problems and keep them safe – while continuing to send letters to her husband assuring him that everything at home was fine.
The pages of The Blank Wall are filled with tension and suspense. The plot is exciting and fast-paced and I could never guess what might happen next. But apart from the thrilling plot, the other strength of this book is the skilful way Holding portrays the relationships between Lucia and the other characters, particularly with her daughter Bee, the housekeeper Sybil and one of the blackmailers, Martin Donnelly, with whom she starts to form a surprising friendship. And I haven’t read many stories of the American Home Front during the war, so this was another interesting aspect of the book for me. A great story and one of my favourite Persephones so far.