Author:  Jenny Lecoat
ISBN:  9 781760 877927
Copy courtesy of Allen and Unwin

“The Viennese Girl” is a historical romance that engaged me far more strongly than I’d expected. It’s based on a true story, and very early on I lost myself in the story completely, to the extent that I read this in a day.

In 1940 the Jersey Islands find themselves all but abandoned by the English. They’re difficult to defend, and the English have other things to worry about in Europe. So the German army takes the Islands unopposed and begins an occupation that will become increasingly brutal.

Hedy Bercu fled from Vienna to escape the Nazis as it became clear that her Jewish heritage put her in danger. Difficulties with visas have left her stranded on the Jersey Islands. She knows better than most of the Islanders what is to come, and she’s terrified. But despite her fear, to survive she takes a job as a translator for the German authorities. Before long, she begins using her position to commit small acts of resistance.

But keeping her head down and not advertising her racial status comes at a cost; German lieutenant Kurt Neumann doesn’t realise she’s a Jew, and they’re rapidly falling in love. As the Nazis become more blatantly brutal, Hedy will need to turn to Kurt to survive – and that will mean revealing her secret.

This is based on a true story. One of the few criticisms I have of it is that it’s such an excellent story, by the end I was eager to know how much of it was true, and what happened to the main characters in the long run. Sadly, there is no real indication of this in the acknowledgements. I suppose not everyone will be bothered by that, but it seems cruel to engage us so strongly with these characters and yet not share this information.

For all that, the novel ends in a satisfying place. Most readers will feel that it’s reached a natural conclusion that seems right for the novel.
The time and place are vividly drawn, including the experiences of the Jersey Islanders. These have not often been depicted in fiction, and I don’t think they’re widely known.

Although many echo the experiences of European civilians, being trapped on an island adds a different dimension. I was broadly aware of these, but found this aspect of the novel fascinating.

The novel has two main strengths; one is the strong and realistic plot. It draws the reader in quickly and makes it extraordinarily difficult to put the novel down. It’s not that it’s all high drama or cliffhangers. It’s more that it’s so very real, with a constant level of tension. Whatever liberties Lecoat may have taken to novelise the story have worked well.

The other primary strength is the engaging characters. Lecoat shows us their feelings and experiences in a way that absorbs readers into their lives and quickly has you caring about them. The love story is an important part of the novel, and it feels very credible. This is a really enjoyable novel. It’s absorbing, entertaining, memorable, and easy to read.

It’s well worth reading and should be enjoyed by readers looking for either romance or historical fiction.

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading The Viennese Girl by Jenny Lecoat. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

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