The Last Telegram by Liz Trenow

When my #SecretBookClub book landed on my doorstep last week, I did what we all do (but don’t admit to doing) and judged it by its cover.  The artwork is beautiful, and the Second World War setting was great news. However, the mini content guide on the back described it as a ‘tear jerker’ and this isn’t usually my thing at all. I therefore arbitrarily categorised it as ‘probably wouldn’t buy, but might borrow from the library’.

So, What’s The Book About?

The book opens just before the start of the Second World War, at the Verner family’s silk weaving factory in East Anglia. Daughter Lily’s plans to move to Geneva are thwarted by increasing tensions, so she grudgingly starts work at the factory.  The factory secures contracts to manufacture parachute silk, allowing them to stay open throughout the War. Just before the fighting starts, the family hear of the plight of Jewish children, who had been evacuated from Germany. They take in three boys as apprentices. Among them is Stefan, who starts work as a weaver. Although the book is pre-dominantly about Lily and Stefan’s relationship, the book also chronicles the impact the War has on the factory, the Verner family and their friends. In particular, it explores the changing role of women as we follow Lily on her journey from apprentice through to fully-fledged businesswoman, who plays a key role in keeping the family trade alive.

The Verdict

I really enjoyed reading this book – in fact; it was one of the best fiction books I’ve read in quite a while. The story was well-paced and written in a way that really allows you to believe you were there with the characters. It was so well structured that I was surprised to learn that it was the author’s first novel. I found myself really rooting for Lily as she took on all the challenges and traumas of war.  Her relationship with Stefan unfolded really beautifully, and wasn’t at all cloying. Lily’s physical appearance was based on Liz Trenow’s mother. There’s a photograph of her on Liz’s blog – she looked rather like I had imagined – and I love her jacket! (Don’t look until you’ve read the book though…)! It is obvious that Liz spent a great deal of time researching the mechanics of silk weaving – in fact, silk weaving is her family’s trade. All the details shone through throughout the story and I particular liked the ‘excerpts’ from Harold Verner’s book The History of Silk that opened each chapter. The only negative, really, was with the cover blurb.  On the edition I was sent, it alludes to a certain sub-plot (I won’t tell you here – spoilers!). Although this plotline was certainly an important part of the story, I didn’t think it was significant enough to justify the prominence the blurb gave it, and it gave me an expectation about the genre of the book that wasn’t entirely accurate. That was the only weak point in an otherwise fabulous book. I would really recommend that you give it a read. Keep a tissue or two handy for the end though – I’m not one for crying at books but I was more than a little misty-eyed with this one!

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