It’s set in England, right as World War II is beginning, but it’s not about the war per se. Elsie Boston owns a small farm called Starlight, but her sisters have married or moved away, and her brothers are dead as a result of the war. So she applies for assistance from the Land Girls, an organization that sends young women to help on farms like Elsie’s because of the absence of male farmworkers. Rene Hargreaves is the young woman assigned to Starlight.
The novel covers the next twenty or so years, and is a loose fictional account of some of the events in the author’s grandmother’s life (Rene’s history). I don’t want to discuss details of the story here because it will spoil too much. But there is a mystery element to some of the story, even with a twist at the end, but the book is more about the relationship that develops between the two women, and society’s uncomfortable speculation about that relationship.
The portions of the novel that are in the present are quite good, but Malik is trying to work some of Rene’s back story into the novel through fragmentary memories and associations, and I found those to be vague enough that they were a distraction. I almost wish she had just laid out Rene’s past somewhere in the beginning since it really didn’t need such an indirect treatment.
Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves is Malik’s first novel, so it will be interesting to see where she goes from here, and if writing about another subject that’s not linked directly to her family will change how she builds plots.