Monday, 8 November 2021

The Girl from Bletchley Park by Kathleen McGurl


fiction set in Bletchley Park

"We're doing a great job. Shame we can never tell anyone. They'll never know about our part in the war."

"We'll know it, and we can be quietly proud of it all our lives. And maybe one day we'll be allowed to talk or write about it".

The Girl from Bletchley Park by Kathleen McGurl is a dual timeline story, set during the WWII and 2019.

Julia is a software developer, who co-runs her own business. Her partner and she have built up their company from nothing. "It was a success, and Julia was proud of all they'd achieved, even though running a business and being a mum and homemaker meant she had little time to call her own. Sometimes she wondered if her work-life balance was out of kilter, but she never dared dwell on this though for too long... She had it all - living the dream of many, with a family and a successful business".

Julia and Marc have been married for fifteen years. Her husband resents the fact that she earns more, and is growing distant, spending less and less time at home.

When Julia's brother Bob visits her, he tells her about his recent visit to Bletchley Park, the British headquarters for code breaking during the Second World War. He suggests she takes her sons on a tour. "It's amazing what they achieved there. They reckon the work that went on at Bletchley Park had a huge impact on the outcome of the war".


Pam is smart. She has been offered a place at Somerville College, Oxford, to read mathematics. "Her mother had never been very comfortable with the idea - thinking that a girl should do secretarial work, find a man to marry, and then keep house for him. As she had. But Pam's father, a schoolteacher, had encouraged her to make the most of her talents and apply to Oxford".

Pam is delighted to be accepted, and understands that her mother belongs to another generation. "Women had more opportunity. Especially during the war, when women were taking on so many jobs that had previously been open only to men".

Not only that, Pam has been offered an exciting opportunity to do top-secret work for the war effort.

While working at Bletchley, Pam meets two young men, Edwin and Frank; both are drawn to her and both attractive. Pam finds herself falling in love with one of them. Barely out of school and socially naive, Pam is too trusting. When an unexpected turn of events calls into question her choice, Pam's allegiance to her country's cause makes her act at risk to her own life.

The timeline alternates between the war and nowadays, as both stories progress. 

Julia needs a distraction from the family tension. When her brother offers her an album of forgotten photos of her grandmother as a young woman, Julia is amazed to discover that Pam worked at Bletchley Park, in the Newmanry, as a Colossus opeartor, deciphering the German messages. Why did her grandmother never mention her time there? 

As Julia begins to unravel her grandmother's story, reading the memoirs of Clarissa, Pam's best friend who worked at Bletchley Park, she comes across an extraoridnary tale of betrayal and courage. Will her grandmother's example encourage Julia to cast the die and change her life?

Two main characters - Pam and Julia - might be divided by time, but they are similar in many ways, both being independent women who use their brains to earn their living. Julia runs her own IT business, while her grandmother worked with the Colossus, which is considered to be the first programmable, electronic computer.

Men in this story get a short shrift, being flaky, unreliable and untrustworthy.

If you are not familiar with the work of the codebreakers at Bletchley Park, you will find a lot of fascinating information on how Newmanry operated under the leadership of Max Newman, and how it was dedicated to breaking the "Tunny" code, "encrypted teleprinter messages that were used extensively in the latter part of the war, by German High Command. It was a fiendishly complicated code, utilising twelve encryption wheels but nevertheless a man named John Tiltman managed to find weaknesses and crack it".

The Girl from Bletchley Park has a strong feminist vein that runs through the book. It is evocative and special. There is romance, but also strong lifelong freindship between feisty women. The book celebrates independent women, education and intellectual strength.

This post is part of the blog tour for The Girl from Bletchley Park. 

Many thanks to Kathleen McGurl, Rachel's Random Resources and Netgalley for my e-copy of the book!

novel set in WWII

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Author Bio – Kathleen McGurl lives near the coast in Christchurch, England. She writes dual timeline novels in which a historical mystery is uncovered and resolved in the present day. She is married to an Irishman and has two adult sons. She enjoys travelling, especially in her motorhome around Europe.

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fiction about Bletchley Park

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