The novel beings in 1938 in Ballycarra, County Mayo, Ireland. Beatrice Adelaide Palmer is the only child of Elizabeth Givens and Morris Palmer. As is true of many teenagers, she is unhappy with her life in this very small Irish hamlet, where her parents run a haberdashery. She yearns to find her way in the larger world. Beatrice’s confidant is her teacher and minister, Mr. Knox who inculcates within her a love a reading and of birds. Early on Beatrice’s mother curtails any further education for Beatrice and requires her to work in the family store. Bored there, and forbidden by her mother to read while working, Beatrice teaches herself to crochet, and soon is creating beautiful lace pieces.
Countess Hartenfels, a rare visitor to Ballycarra notices Beatrice’s lace and strikes up a friendship with Beatrice. She invites Beatrice to journey with her to Germany to work for her friends the Metzenburg’s. Of course Beatrice accepts the invitation, much to the protest of her parents. And that is the beginning of Beatrice’s experience with the larger world – with Germany as Hitler claims power and moves the world into war.
The novel is a coming of age story. But it is more than that. Told in the voice of Beatrice, we experience the personal loss, the personal transformations, the social upheavals of life in the middle of a country at war.
Be careful if you read this book. You will feel like you are there in Germany during the war. You will feel like you are looking over Beatrice’s shoulder seeing, feeling, breathing what she sees, experiences and smells.
I am always looking for a good book with a strong woman character. I found one in this book!
Susanna Moore. 2012. The life of objects: a novel. New York: Alfred A. Knopf