The Telephone Girls by Jenny Holmes – Review
By Natasha Meek
Ilkley-based writer Jenny Holmes is no stranger to the world of writing, and has published over 150 books in the last 30 years. Her latest novel, The Telephone Girls, is set in Bradford in the 1930s and follows the lives of three young women at George Street’s once state-of-the-art telephone exchange.
The telephonist dream team are Millicent, Norma and Cynthia who revel in the responsibility and independence that their job brings them, however, after listening in to a mysterious phone call involving a friend, they quickly become caught up in a dark and illicit scandal.
It is a thrilling, surprising and bittersweet tale with a steady pace. Holmes lures the reader into a false sense of security and reveals a veil of lies over the suburban landscape.
Whilst we are invested in the lives of three Yorkshire girls, it seems Jenny Holmes is critical about human morals in times of adversity; a message I feel truly reflects our own society today. After reading the book I feel I have been thrilled, charmed but also educated. Holmes also touches upon themes of loyalty, broken and fractured families and camaraderie which offers some tender and touching moments.
“Vivid and cinematic”
From the offset, the reader realises that seemingly harmless people and places in the town may be not be as innocent as they seem. Without doubt, the best part of this book is the beautiful way in which Holmes constructs her characters. She manages to create wonderfully human and flawed characters, each with very different lifestyles and situations.
The novel is written from different points of view which helps us understand the protagonists’ motives and personalities; despite this technique, Holmes still manages to write something tinged with secrecy. Strangely, whilst seemingly innocent characters become dangerous, the more unbearable ones become very likeable.
Speaking to the Yorkshire Post, Holmes believes that ‘there is a particular characteristic of Yorkshire women’ and describes it as ‘an inner strength’ and ‘stoic determination’. This belief can be seen throughout the book where even the most naive characters find strength in their own weaknesses and struggles.
It is worth noting that Holmes has had books adapted for both the BBC and ITV. This is no surprise as she writes in such a vivid and cinematic way, making the book very enjoyable. Fans of Call the Midwife will particularly enjoy it.
Although the novel deals with difficult subjects, I was pleased to read about beautiful snippets of life in the 1930s. Within every chapter Holmes managed to perfectly balance out the darker plot line alongside romance, dance halls and fashions of the day.
By the end of the book I realised I had developed a strong sense of attachment to the characters and did not want to leave them in the pages of a book. The ending left me feeling satisfied and complete.
If you’re looking for that perfect page-turner for a cosy afternoon then this is the book for you. Champion, as Cynthia would say.
‘The Telephone Girls’ by Jenny Holmes is published by Corgi, £5.99 paperback