By: Susan Sallis
Outer back cover: For Alice Pettiford, living near Gloucester in the late 1940s, leaving school for a job as a railway secretary makes perfect sense. Most of her family have worked for the railway over the years, and her best friend Hester’s father would be in the same office.
What Alice does not expect is that she would fall in love with Joe Adair, a colleague, almost as soon as she meets him. But Joe has to go overseas on National Service, and in the meanwhile Hester’s brother, the enigmatic Valentine, finds that his fondness for Alice is deepening into something much stronger. When he and Alice discover an old railway coach, long abandoned, hidden in a clearing in the Forest of Dean, Alice realises that it has been a very special, magical place. What she doesn’t know is that the coach has played a secret part in the history of Joe’s family, and that Joe’s mother named it “the pumpkin coach”. Now her own destiny will also be shaped by this enchanted refuge.
Another book I only picked up because it was a book in English in the hostel book bin and didn’t think I would enjoy, but then did. It took me a few pages to get into the way Sallis writes, but when I did I could hardly put the book down!
The book just follows the lives of two families, how they interact and intertwine, and it was really interesting to see how they changed during the course of a few years. Alice is the main person, I’m not sure if I liked her; she wasn’t quite believable enough, which was strange as most of the other characters were. The story didn’t just focus on her though but on all the other characters of the families as well which was good as you get to know what happens from more than just one perspective.
There were quite a few surprises in the book, which was nice because I never knew what was going to happen next. The biggest one, I think, was what happened with Valentine. I don’t want to go into too much detail but I just want to say I didn’t think he would end up the way he did.
My favourite character was Reggie. This sounds strange if you’ve read the book. I didn’t like his personality but that was also why I liked him, because you always found out new things about him and he was just quite well written.