After Molly, her mother, dies. Alison uses her legacy to make a film about Molly’s relationship with a man she had known since she was a teenager. What hold did this man have over her mother? And what other secrets was her mother hiding?
Castles in the Air follows the life of Molly Ripley through the eyes of her daughter Alison. From Molly’s childhood in colonial Hong Kong and Malaya; wartime adventures as a rookie office girl in the far east outpost of Bletchley Park then as a young nurse in the city; tangled romance and marriage… to her challenging middle-age when demons from the past seem set to overwhelm her.
One reason Don and Cissy had been against sending Molly to school so far away was that they spent their working lives listening to and intercepting messages sent by the Japanese naval fleet. Privy to this classfied information, they were convinced that a war with Japan was inevitable. In December 1941, just as Molly was sitting her School Certificate, the school girls heard some ominous news on the radio:
We were all greatly encouraged when we heard of the arrival of the mighty battleship, Prince of Wales and cruiser Repulse and all thought they would soon ‘sort out’ the Japanese. Then we heard on the news that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbour on December 2nd 1941, thus drawing the Americans into the conflict – to be followed by air raids on Singapore. Most of the children not taking School Certificate had been sent back to their homes.
December 2nd was, in fact, the date that Prince of Wales and Repulse arrived at the Singapore Naval Base with great fanfare. The attack on Pearl Harbour took place 7th December, 8th December in Malaya, at the same time as the first Japanese bombing raid on Singapore. It was 4am in Singapore when Don and Ciss were woken by the air raid sirens. Their worst fears had come to pass. Their darling Molly was hundreds of miles away. All they could do was pray she would get home safely, but as a former Royal Marine, Don would have known only too well what perfect cover a remote jungle region could provide for an advancing Japanese land invasion.
My 5* Book Review:
This is a story of family, love, secrets, and truth, written by a daughter about her mother. Alison uses diaries and letters passed on to her after the death of her mother, Molly, to tell the story of her mother’s remarkable life. From an early childhood in Hong Kong, escaping bombing during World War Two and working for an outpost of Bletchley Park, Molly had an eventful life. As the years pass, she marries, has children and becomes a maternity nurse. But life begins to take it’s toll. Through Molly’s own words, Alison finds out how much her mother has kept hidden from the family.
I thought that this was an interesting memoir that was well constructed. Diary entries and letters written and received by Molly are used well throughout the book. I got the impression that Alison learnt a lot about her mother, and that being the case, I can only imagine how difficult this book must have been to write.
It is a moving book to read. Some parts are funny, as you see things through a young Molly’s eyes, and others are uncomfortable as Alison recounts her mothers troubles in later life. Molly certainly had a life of ups and downs with plenty of drama and tragedy along the way. Alison tells us about it all with sensitivity and understanding.
A recommended memoir.
As always, thanks for reading.
All the best,