REVIEW – So Much Owed by Jean Grainger

So Much Owed has been presented as an Irish WW2 story, but it has a slightly bigger scope than that, beginning at the end of WW1, when Dr Richard Buckley returns home from war with his best friend’s widow Solange in tow. Shortly after his arrival, twins Juliet and James are born to Richard and his cold and unfeeling wife Edith. Showing minimal interest in her children and never forgiving her husband for signing up to fight for the British, her perceived enemy, she ups and leaves, leaving Richard and Solange to manage.

And by all means, the twins do well, the bulk of the story follows the twins as adults and the build up to the Second World War and how they both play their parts but also make some questionable personal decisions along the way. And there’s this constant pressure of what is expected of them, that James will be a doctor and Juliet a wife, but the previously mischievous twins throw out the rule book and seem to do their own thing, which I adore about the two of them as characters.

James and Juliet’s closeness is echoed throughout the book, where you see both sides of them falling out and feeling conflicted, worried that they’re losing that closeness. They spent a lot of time away from each other but they’re still constantly wondering how the other is doing and worrying, wishing the other was there to help them navigate their decisions.

Some of the claims in the book, such as the IRA compliance with German spies and a conspiracy taking place in the republic, I can’t say I know much about, but I’m sure on some level events like this were taking place in that period – there’s too much tension between the IRA, Unionists and Britain to assume that this neutrality was respected on all sides. Although, I will admit that the big revelation towards the end about a certain conspirator, I had seen coming much earlier on – and that for me is where the book fell a little flat. In many instances it was so easy to see what was coming next, so the big revelations had far less impact because I found myself as a reader rolling her eyes and saying ‘No Shit Sherlock’.

Slight side note here – I couldn’t help but see comparisons with Juliet’s story and Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks, which made me love this book a little bit more than I did already. The moral grey areas of Juliet’s side of the story, and in fact the grey areas all over this book made it quite an interesting read.

I absolutely loved the ending in every possible way. It had a smudge of tragedy, nothing to make you too inconsolable, but a whole lot of happy ending as well for the people of Dunderrig who I grew to love whilst reading this.


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