The storyline is good - beginning of WWII, set in London. Mary North is a young woman from a well off and privileged family. She desperately wants to do something useful now that war has started so she volunteers to be a teacher. The evacuation of children from London renders her useless until she finds out that special needs children, those with significant health issues and black children are to remain in London. So she resolves to stay and continue to teach these unwanted children. This causes major issues with her parents, her father being a senior government politician, in line for a cabinet posting. Tom Shaw is a young man, who has an important role in education administration which is where he meets Mary. He falls madly in love with her, and this forms a central line to the plot. His best friend is Alistair who is an art curator with the Tate Gallery. He volunteers and has what amounts to a truly awful war, involved in Dunkirk and that chaos and then stuck on Malta while it is under siege from the Germans. The story weaves around these three, as well as Mary's young black student Zachary.
So there is plenty of scope here for a great novel - plenty of action with the war both in Europe and the dreadful air raids on London, the intensity of relationships with the never ending and ever present threat of death and loss looming by, the appalling racism demonstrated by Londoners to young Zachary and black people in general, the beauty and starkness of Malta - a place I have always wanted to go to. There is some amazing writing, especially about the bombing raids on London, their effects on the psyche of the residents, and I did like the writing about being holed up in a hopeless situation on Malta. But despite all this, it just does not hold together at all well. Maybe I was expecting too much...I don't know.....3*