Review: Forbidden Places: Penny Vincenzi

Apologies for disappearing so completely–it’s a challenge to remain on schedule and on track when one’s hormones are wreaking havoc with one’s mind! Eighteen weeks pregnant and counting. And this novel was perfect reading during the time when I was at my lowest with morning sickness and all the other ailments of the first trimester. I have found each of Penny Vincenzi’s novels to be absorbing and page-turning reads, but this one takes the cake.

One of my favorite subgenres of historical fiction is the family drama, so…Add to that the trials and tribulations during WW2. And add to that the setting being the English home front: men off fighting the war, women pining away and dealing with food rationing and bombing, outgoing Americans “invading” with their money and chocolates…This is the story of three women and their relationships, and how the war impacts who will survive and who will thrive.

I have read many excellent WW2 family dramas, a few I have already reviewed here, and Forbidden Places ranks up there among the best. Yes, the focus is of course on the wealthy, spoiled upper crusties (and I admit-I like to read about what I am NOT haha) but this one branches out a bit to include the impact of a few lower-class characters who punch a hole in the ever-so-perfect-on-the-surface lives of the rest of the cast. What I find so endearing about Vincenzi’s books, this one being a prime example, is the revelation of the imperfect lives behind the perfect exteriors and circumstances. Not that this is a new technique in literature by any stretch of the imagination,  but Vincenzi does it extraordinarily well. She brings these hoighty-toighty personas back down to earth, showing her less privileged readers that all is not well behind the walls of those stately English homes. In Forbidden Places, she touches on the themes of  both physical and emotional abuse, as well as the topic of adultery (and understandable adultery at that) all under the looming backdrop of war.

The novel’s plot, although seemingly predictable at the beginning, is actually quite suspenseful. Vincenzi manages to twist the plot so the reader is convinced she knows what is coming and then has the rug of certainty pulled out from under her.  The prose flows quickly and is chatty, and informal, making the book easy to slide into from the first page and remaining captivating all the way through. The characters are engaging, true-to-life, and multidimensional. A thoroughly enjoyable novel, one of my favorites this year.

Forbidden Places

Penny Vincenzi

To be published in the US on October 14, 2010

512 pages

Overlook Hardcover


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