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The Blue Bench

Narrated by: Colleen MacMahon
Length: 19 hrs and 32 mins
5 out of 5 stars (8 ratings)

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Summary

Margate 1920. The Great War is over, but Britain mourns, and its spirit is not yet mended.

Edward and William have returned from the front as changed men. Together, they have survived grotesque horrors and remain haunted by memories of comrades who did not come home. The summer season in Margate is a chance for them to rebuild their lives and reconcile the past.

Evelyn and Catherine are young women ready to live life to the full. Their independence has been hard-won, and with little knowledge of the cost of their freedom, they are ready to face new challenges side by side.

Can they define their own future and open their hearts to the prospect of finding love? Will the summer of 1920 be a turning point for these new friends? As the body of the unknown warrior is returned, can the nation find a way forward?

©2018 Paul Marriner (P)2019 Paul Marriner

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

This is a must read/listen to book!

Historical fiction is a genre I don’t read very often, but I had heard good things about this book so decided to give it a try and I am so pleased that I did. If I could award more than 5 stars then I would!

The book is set in 1920, just a couple of years after WW1 and is the story of William and Edward, two ex soldiers, and two young ladies, Catherine and Evelyn, and is mostly set in Margate. It is written in the third person, mainly from the viewpoint of either Evelyn or Edward.

This is a long book. I listened to the Audible version and it lasted 19 ½ hours, but I didn’t want it to end. It is a book to be savoured and I became totally immersed in the lives of all the main characters, who were all totally believable. The relationship between Evelyn and Edward is beautifully written, and I was rooting for them throughout the book, even though I knew it probably wouldn’t end well. I loved all the little details of life in a 1920s seaside town which made the book come alive.
Paul Marriner skillfully weaves real people into a work of fiction and I learned so much about the history of the time because of his meticulous research, and after I had finished the book I felt compelled to go online and do my own little bit of research to find out more about Major Gillies and his work with disfigured soldiers, and why the benches were painted blue. It was also interesting to learn about how the grave of the Unknown Soldier came to be in Westminster Abbey.

When I got to the end of the book my heart was broken, but this is a book I will always remember. I received a free copy of this audio book in exchange for an honest review, but I have just purchased the kindle book as I feel that I will want to read the book again at some point.

The Audible version was narrated by Colleen MacMahon and her voice was just right for this book, and her sublime narration added to my enjoyment of the book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Heartbreaking

A beautifully written book following the lives of four friends in the period after the First World War. The story reflects the emotional torment of those who served, survived and saw many die and who are trying to lead as normal a life as possible. There is much reference to the grave of the unknown soldier and the importance of the symbol for the families of those lost or broken is clearly depicted.

The lives of characters in the book have become important to me over the last few days. The ending, although suspected was absolutely devastating - I am heartbroken.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Emotional listen

The main reason I decided to listen to this book was that it is set in Margate, near where I live and the book sounded really good.

It is a very emotional and heartbreaking listen as it is set shortly after the first World War so all the people are reminiscing and talking about friends they lost. It is also a very long listen as it is over 19 and half hours long, but doesn't really feel like it.

The book is very realistic and the premise is such a dark theme that there are a lot of sad moments in it, as well as some slightly happier ones.

Overall a great book and brilliantly narrated

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A stunning and moving novel!

The Blue Bench is a novel following four characters in the aftermath of the first world war. Edward and William have returned from the front but they are forever changed by what they have been through. Catherine and Evelyn are two young women keen to get on with their lives. The book is about their journeys as they each try to look to the future. The novel is predominantly told from the perspectives of Edward and Evelyn but all four of these characters feature all the way through.

The Blue Bench opens with a visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which for the people concerned is an annual pilgrimage. The book then goes back in time to 1920 when we meet Edward, William, Catherine and Evelyn. It is such a beautiful and moving novel. It is a melancholy book but there are moments of lightness to balance the dark. It’s a meandering story that follows these four characters as they each try to build a life for themselves in the new world they find themselves in post war.

Edward was the character I was most fascinated by. He has suffered an horrendous facial injury in the war and has to wear an uncomfortable tin mask. He suffers great pain and requires more and more painkillers to get any kind of relief and this leads to him procuring these medications by whatever means necessary. I felt such sympathy for him as he struggles. I have no idea what it is to go to war but I do know what it’s like to have an obvious disability and to suffer with chronic pain, Paul Marriner captures this so well. Edward is a wonderful pianist, he enjoys playing piano and it seems to take him out of his real life for a while. People really enjoy his playing but it still is shocking to some of his audiences when they see his face; it’s as if the beauty of his playing is somehow cancelled out for people by the injury to his face. There is always something of a distance around Edward, even when his closest friend William is with him, it’s as if he can no longer allow himself to fully engage with people and life. I could feel his loneliness even when he was with people. I was rooting for him all the way through the novel and was hoping that he would beat the odds and find some happiness and calm in his life.

William is different to Edward, he’s more outgoing and a bit of a ladies’ man but he does have a caring side to him. He looks out for Edward, and tries to keep his mood buoyed up. Catherine and Evelyn are great characters too. I loved their friendship and the way they supported and encouraged each other. It’s so wonderful to find a novel where there are female characters who have each other’s backs, I really enjoyed reading about their growing friendship and seeing where life took them.

I very much appreciated how real events and people were interwoven into this novel, particularly the way the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier came to be. I found these parts of the novel incredibly moving. I knew about the unknown soldier but to see the story of this brought to life in this story gave me goosebumps. It’s a real gift to write a work of fiction but to bring in real elements of history and make you feel as if you were there, to give you a new understanding of just how much something mattered.

I listened to The Blue Bench on audio book and the narrater, Colleen MacMahon, is wonderful. The pacing of the book was just right and she struck the right tone for the nature of the novel. She really made this book a joy to listen to and I will definitely be looking out for more audio books narrated by her. The audio is nineteen and a half hours long but it was one of those books that I was loving so much that I just didn’t want it to end.

I felt really quite bereft on finishing this novel. I loved every minute that I spent listening to it and I miss the characters. I still find myself wondering about them, they became so real to me. The Blue Bench is an incredible novel and one I won’t forget. It is a melancholy read, there is pain and sadness running through it but there is also fun and laughter and love – the novel may be set just after the Great War but the themes are universal and timeless in many respects. It’s a true reflection on how life is and I adored it beyond words. This will be one of those rare books that I will re-read in the future because I loved it so very much. I recommend this to everyone, it really is a stunning novel!

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Poignant and moving character-led stoty

This is a poignant and moving look at the difficult period post WW1 which looks at a small group of characters affected in various ways by the war and starting to rebuild lives - Edward struggling with injuries and pain, mental as well as physical, feels so much 'survivor guilt' and this is movingly explored but although it is his story that I found drew me in most the others [Evelyn, Catherine, William, Georgette, Patrick, Alice and Alistair] all add great depth and layers to the story. Initially it started and built up slowly but to do justice to the characters and evoke the period I felt that time was needed. It is very dark in places and surprises you in others but ultimately an intriguing look at that post war period.

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A captivating listen

What a beautiful book to listen to. I was captivated by the story from beginning to end. The narration was just the right pace and tone to bring the book and characters to life. You could really imagine the time it was set in and both the hope and despair of people just after the war and saw how it affected them in different ways. By switching between the characters you got to know them and their thoughts and gradually their individual stories. This was a book I didn't really want to end but knew it had to. It will stay with me for a long time.

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Heartbreaking and beautiful - outstanding narration!

I tend to stay away from World War I stories as I inevitably find them quite depressing but this was raved about in my book club so I gave it a try - and I’m so glad I did!
The book is beautifully written and the narration by Colleen MacMahon is simply outstanding.
The characters are vivid and nuanced, the setting is rich and authentic and the whole story has a beautiful rhythm to it - despite feeling now quite heartbroken this was an absolute joy to listen to. Highly recommended!

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  • Jan M
  • 04-05-19

Symbolic

The Blue Bench by Paul Marriner is a very symbolic historical listen. This book takes place after the ravages of World War I in 1920. I found the descriptions to be quite vivid, and noticed the un-diagnosed PTSD in some of the characters, The story definitely has some heartbreaking scenes. The background of Westminster Abby and the grave of the Unknown Soldier added to the depth and descriptions of the story. I found several of the characters to have great resilience to what life had given them. The journey in this book not depressing, but eye opening and heartbreaking. The narration by Colleen MacMahon was perfect. She brought the characters to life with her distinguishable voices , I will listen to more books by this author and narrator.