Londoners Suky and Cal are in the midst of a nasty domestic quarrel when Suky’s Dutch friend Mariolain telephones--the first time Suky has heard from her in twenty years. Mariolain wants to know whether her husband Niels can stay with them when he is in town the next week, and she promises to return their hospitality. Thus begins a renewal of the women’s friendship that leads to the recounting, over the following Easter vacation in the Netherlands, of Mariolain and Niels’s childhood survival of World War II.
Their stories are told in Suky’s breezy London vernacular, which sometimes rings false or just plain strange (“my thigh, which would soon enough be shrivelled with rage, burned for his touch”). Mariolain’s history, in particular, is an extremely compelling one that haunts Suky as well as Mariolain herself. Through the telling of it, however, both women benefit--Mariolain by coming to some peace with the ghosts from her past, Suky by gaining perspective on the pettiness of her own problems.
CASUALTIES is a powerful and fascinating book. There is a bit of gratuitous horror, at least to the mind of this reviewer, but overall, Lynne Reid Banks’s treatment is evenhanded and humane. CASUALTIES is a bold experiment in presenting the personal cruelties of war in the guise of fiction, and it succeeds admirably.