Molly Missons gazed around in awe. So this was Butlin's. Whitewashed buildings, bordered by rhododendrons, gave a cheerful feeling to a world still recovering from six years of war. The Skegness holiday camp covered a vast area, much larger than Molly expected to see.Molly Missons hasn't had the best of times recently. Having lost her parents, now some dubious long-lost family have darkened her door - attempting to steal her home and livelihood...
After a horrendous ordeal, Molly applies for a job as a Butlin's Aunty. When she receives news that she has got the job, she immediately leaves her small home town - in search of a new life in Skegness.
Molly finds true friendship in Freda, Bunty and Plum. But the biggest shock is discovering that star of the silver screen, Johnny Johnson, is working at Butlin's as head of the entertainment team. Johnny takes an instant liking to Molly and she begins to shed the shackles of her recent traumas. Will Johnny be just the distraction Molly needs - or is he too good be to be true?
Elaine Everest has written such a gorgeous second novel and now in my eyes she is one of my go to authors when I want a nice, light historical read that at the same has a few serious undertones running through it. I couldn't wait to get my hands on The Butlins Girls as I had so thoroughly enjoyed her début The Woolworths Girls.
This new book opens as Molly Missions is arriving at the Butlins holiday camp in Skegness as it is about to reopen for the first time after the war. Billy Butlin has put a lot of time, effort and thought into making his camp the best it can be to offer enjoyment, freedom and relief for the holidaymakers who visit after enduring such deprivation and hardship during the war years. Molly is apprehensive and nervous about starting a new job away from her home town of Erith. It wouldn't be her first choice to have to leave everything she has known but she is faced with no other choice. A summer working as a Butlins Auntie may just prove to be the welcome change she didn't really realise she needed. I suppose if we are afraid of going to pastures new or venturing down a new path we will always be anxious but it's not until we get to that point and start enjoying it do we realise a change does us the world of good.
I enjoyed how we didn't get straight down to it immediately and have the book set at the camp site for all of the story. Instead the author gave us a clear, beginning, middle and end which can be so lacking in other books as the plot lines go astray and become too blurred. We are taken back to Erith and introduced properly to Molly and supplied with her back story, the reader was able to familiarise themselves with Molly's small town life and the situation she unexpectedly finds herself in. I found it easier to get to know Molly and to understand the person she was. It was also such a delight to see a character Freda, from The Woolworth's Girls, make a welcome reappearance as she is Molly's best friend. Freda was such a great supportive friend and ally to Molly when she needed one the most. When everything seemed to be going against Molly and she felt she may have no one to turn to or no one to offer advice, Freda always stepped in. But at the same time I loved how she had that humorous cheeky side to her character too.
During the war years Molly had worked in the Land Army and following the conclusion of the war she returned home to live with her parents. Soon tragedy struck and now she has lost both her parents but she is trying to keep her father's ironmonger shop going, I felt nothing but sympathy for Molly. The death of her parents was still so fresh and raw that on the outside she was attempting to put on a brave face but underneath she was battling numerous emotions. What completely sets the cat among the pigeons is a letter arriving for Molly from her 'aunt' claiming her husband had been married to Molly's father and that she was now entitled to the house. Molly thought she had no relatives at all. Harriet and her son Simon soon arrive on the scene and they were certainly creepy from the beginning and I questioned the validity of their claim. As if poor Molly hadn't enough to deal with she soon finds herself out on her ear. Thanks to the kindness of Norman, who works in the ironmongers, and his wife Kath, Molly has a place to stay but she can't stay there for ever.
I can't begin to think how Molly must have felt been thrown out of her own family home and being made to feel so unwelcome and nothing about it really didn't sit well with me at all. Molly is a strong young woman in some respects when push comes to shove and though she may not want to leave her beloved Erith for the Butlin's holiday camp but it could be the makings of her. After the slightly dark events of the beginning of the book when the story moved to the camp there was a lighter more carefree attitude as Molly embarked upon a new chapter in her life. She wanted to make the most of the opportunity. The enthusiasm from all the staff and the enjoyment of the holidaymakers on their first holiday in many years just radiated from the pages.
I said it with the previous book that I knew nothing of Woolworths as I live in Ireland and the same would be said for Butlins but it's the great writing from Elaine Everest that made me feel like I knew the place well and I could see how the British people have such fond memories of the camps. There was a slight danger the story could have become monotonous detailing the daily routine of Molly at the camp. Yes it was lovely to read of the different activities she was engaged in for the first time but if this had been repeated over and over I would have become bored. The story needed that little something else to save this from happening and thankfully that happened in the form of hunky entertainment officer Johnny Johnson, a famous movie star, who Molly has her eye on. Some may think why on earth would a movie star be working at Butlins but I didn't think it was too far fetched and just went with the flow.
The second thing that brought a new dimension to the book when we got to Butlins was the addition of two new characters Bunty and Plum. Bunty was a children's entertainer with a lot more to her than first meets the eye. Plum was in charge of the donkey rides and like Bunty she was putting on a brave front and had secrets to spill. Out of the two I liked Bunty's story best. I loved the camaraderie that developed between the three women and when things came to head they were the first there for each other and were determined not to let the bad side win out.
Despite a slow enough start The Butlins Girls really did pick up the pace. There was a nice balance of all the different storylines that were very much separate and then came together at just the right time. Elaine Everest certainly writes with a great sense of time and place and yes it is a saga book but so very different from the heaps of war/family saga books of which there are so many published every year. It was good her second book wasn't a continuation of The Woolworth Girls and that we were introduced to new characters. It was something new, exciting and fresh and thoroughly enjoyable. Saying all that I was excited to see mention that there will be a Christmas visit to Woolworths which I am very much looking forward to already. In the meantime you wouldn't go far wrong in picking up a copy of these engaging, enjoyable read.
Many thanks to Bethan James from ED PR for my copy of The Butlins Girls to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.