REVIEWED BY LINDA HILL
An Ocean Apart is an engaging insight into the Windrush Generation arriving in Britain
The presentation of nursing training felt pitch perfect and very much like that my own mother had in the late 1940s so that there’s a real authenticity here. There’s enough technical terminology to convince the reader of the accuracy of the author’s research without slowing the narrative pace. Sarah Lee is unafraid to present a balanced experience of the realities of nursing life alongside the personal experiences of the characters.
I liked the way the dialogue often reflected the accents and dialects of the young women from the Caribbean, or Ireland, as it made them feel more real. Similarly, Sarah Lee creates a clear sense of place as Connie and Ruby in particular discover London on their weekend trips, making it really easy to visualise settings.
Innocence and vulnerability
With the story told from the perspectives of Billie, Connie and Ruby, the girls’ personalities develop into clear and distinct characters. Although quite different from one another, each has an underlying vulnerability making the reader empathise with them. Ruby’s 1950s innocence is refreshing, even if it does leave her open to the vile Margaret. What is so affecting here is that Margaret’s overt racism, so much part of the era, is sadly still with us, making An Ocean Apart feel relevant as well as historical. Margaret acts as a clever contrast to the other girls, but my goodness she enrages the reader.
However, whilst the girls are at the centre of the story, what touched me most was the gradual revealing of Devon’s character. Without spoiling the read for others, in the relatively sexist world of the 1950s, he illustrates how men are affected by their experiences every bit as much as women.
An Ocean Apart is a relatively light, easy and entertaining read, but Sarah Lee never shies away from weightier themes that add layers of depth. Identity and how we present ourselves to others, race, trauma, secrets and relationships of many kinds weave through the story too.
With romance, realism and just a touch of humour, An Ocean Apart is billed as a must for fans of Call the Midwife. I think those who love that television series will love An Ocean Apart too.
Out now in paperback, An Ocean Apart by Sarah Lee (Pan, PB £8.99) is available to order now from Amazon.
Sarah Lee has an exclusive short story, Leaving Little England, in our Oct 8 issue (on sale Oct 4, 2022). Pick up a copy and enjoy a great read! Or why not take out a money-saving subscription for great fiction every week? Subscribe today and beat the price rise – get your first 13 issues of My Weekly for only £8, saving up to 65% from the shop price! This fantastic deal also includes FREE UK delivery of each issue.