The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck [Review]

“Your actions are your actions. At the end of your life you have done what you have done.

women in the castlePublished recently in March 2017, The Women in the Castle begins by following the life of Marianne von Lingenfels just before and after World War 2. When her husband, along with her longtime friend, choose to begin a German resistance movement against Hitler, she is named the commander of wives and children. Her task? To safeguard the wives and children of the men in this German resistance movement. Now, at the end of World War 2 she must fulfill her promise. She takes in wives and children of these resisters and they all live in an old family castle she has inherited.

When I read the book’s blurb I was immediately drawn to it, especially since I think I have a weakness for a good book set in World War 2. Now, let’s see if I can form a coherent review from my jumble of thoughts.

First, the plot and the way the story continues throughout is somewhat slow. The initial idea from the blurb I liked but as the book continues I found that nothing plot-wise there is not a lot going on. As the book followed each woman, some parts held my attention but others I found to be rather bland and had no real spark for me. There are parts in which the horrors of World War 2 are stated as mere facts by an omniscient narrator (which reminded me very much of All the Light We Cannot See) but these parts lacked any emotional resonance for me. For all its talk of the sufferings of war, it lacked what was necessary to provoke any emotion from me regarding those subjects. I felt like the narrator was merely mentioning these things that were happening in a way you mention articles from a grocery list. Of course, that is just my perception and I’ve read reviews from other readers that have loved this author’s take.

Still, the characters are rather likable, each with their own distinct personality and with their own views regarding the war. I won’t go into much detail because I feel I would be spoiling somehow. However, suffice it to say each woman brings something into the dynamics of their initial precarious stability. Each woman is rather interesting in their own way but to me the character I liked the most was no-nonsense Ania.

“Don’t you ever want to put it away, Marianne? To be done with it? I don’t want to know what they did. I don’t want to look over my shoulder forever. It was a horrible time. And now it is past!”

What piqued my interest in Ania are certain aspects of her life and personality. For example, how as a German Nazi, she begins to sense the horrible things being done but somehow chooses to continue being ignorant of them. It made me think about people’s mentality and how they choose to see or not see things that are right in front of them. One of the things that endeared her to me was when Ania starts to live in the castle and is apprehensive at first, so she dreams of the comfortable familiarity she had with another family she met while on the run from the Russian army.

Something I like was how the book presents us with different relationships between the parents and their children. One character’s relationship with the children she had before the war was very different from the child she had after the war. It was interesting to see how a post war child, who grew up “spoiled”, was the attentive one and interested in getting to know their parents as a person.

It’s interesting to note that the author took 7 years to write this book, apparently using accounts and interviews, some of them from her own family members. While the author presumably did use other people’s stories for inspiration, this still falls under the category of historical fiction. As such, this book tells a good story but for me does not live up to its full potential with how good a historical fiction like this could’ve been. Maybe the author did not want to deviate much from the accounts and embellish the story too much?

While I liked her writing style and the characters the story feels somewhat forgettable to me. This is a good book for those who like World War 2 fiction and complex female characters.

3 out of 5 mortars

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