Having enjoyed the first book in Helena Halme’s series, The Englishman, about a Finnish girl who falls in love with a British naval officer, during the era when Finland was considered to be a Soviet-affiliated enemy, I was glad to discover the sequel, The Navy Wife, has just been published.
In this sequel, the Finnish girl, Kaisa, now 24, has to come to terms with life married to a military officer, much of whose work must be kept secret from her for security reasons, in a culture in which he is expected to put his career first, his wife second, and to be absent and literally incommunicado for months at a time. (No mobile phones in the 80s, when the book is set, but in any case there’d be no public signal inside a military nuclear submarine!)
Frustrated at being unable to build a career of her own, not least because her hard-won Finnish degree seems to count for naught in UK, she is forcibly relocated from sunny, sociable Portsmouth to cold, rainy and friendless Helensburgh, Scotland, when husband Peter is assigned to serve at the Faslane naval base.
No plot spoilers here, but I will say that Helena Halme keeps us on tenterhooks right to the last minute, as Kaisa encounters numerous obstacles, including controversial friendships and temptations.
Drawing on the author’s own experience as a Finnish expat, this novel often feels like a biography, though it’s entirely fictitious. But it’s none the less engaging for that. I’ve always admired military wives who manage to survive the incredible demands of their nomadic and constrained lifestyle, and this book provides an enlightening insight, which only deepened my respect for any woman who is able to adapt and survive it with their marriage and dignity intact.
But really The Navy Wife is a two-stranded survival story, because it’s also a story of a cross-cultural marriage – another issues that I’ve always found interesting – which adds a further level of challenge for Kaisa. It’s hard not to feel sorry for Kaisa, missing not only Peter, but also her family and native culture in far-off Finland. Oh, for a decent cup of Finnish coffee, rather than the ubiquitous British tea!
Although the author is Finnish, her written English is flawless. Her style is factual and down-to-earth – perhaps a Nordic characteristic? – which works well with these stories, describing the trials of Kaisa’s situation with sympathy and empathy but without becoming over-emotional or melodramatic.
Another layer of interest was added for me by the locations in which this novel is set, particularly Helensburgh, which I’ve visited several times when friends were based there, attached to Faslane. She’s created the sense of place (and climate!) very well – an important factor in Kaisa’s sense of alienation.
I recommend The Navy Wife to anyone interested in any of the issues mentioned above, or who likes reading interesting and unusual novels about marriage and romance. Although I also recommend the prequel, The Englishman, The Navy Wife also works well as a standalone novel.
Wondering and hoping now whether there will be a third book in the series…
The Navy Wife is now available to buy as an ebook, and the paperback will be out in January.
About the Author
To find out more about Helena Halme, and about her other novels (which I’m now planning to read), visit her website: www.helenahalme.com.