[Review] Priscilla: The Hidden Life of an Englishwoman in Wartime France by Nicholas Shakespeare

Title: Priscilla: The Hidden Life of an Englishwoman in Wartime France
Author: Nicholas Shakespeare
Publisher: Harper an imprint of HarperCollins January 7, 2014
Genre: Non-fiction, French Occupation, Nazi Germany, World War II, family dysfunction,
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 448
Rating: 4 Stars for very good.
Source: Free copy from Harper in exchange for a review. 

Priscilla, has tested my ability to write a fair and balanced review. My dad was in the D-Day invasion on Normandy Beach. Dad was also in the Battle of the Bulge. He went to Paris a few days after the war ended and attended a class at the University of Paris. He witnessed French women who'd been ostracized. Their shaven heads were a mark on their body because of sexual relationships they'd had with German soldiers.
I'll never forget what daddy told me, "Annette, you don't know what those poor people went through. Those women may not have had a choice, they may have done this thing because they needed food."
It is with a nonjudgmental attitude that I'll write this review.

Nicholas Shakespeare (I love this name), is the nephew of Priscilla. As a young boy and during the years he was growing up, his aunt was a mystery. The rest of the family knew little about her "lost years" in Paris. Priscilla's best friend Gillian, was unaware of what exactly Priscilla had been doing. After her death, her step-daughter gave Nicholas a few of Priscilla's possessions. After searching through these treasures, he had more questions than when he began. Through painstaking research, traveling to France, interviewing those people who'd known his aunt (if they were still living), and pouring through any available archive material in France, he began to piece together Priscilla's hidden years during the occupation of France.
Nicholas Shakespeare, began Priscilla's biography at the onset of her parent's marriage. Priscilla's father was a well-known BBC radio broadcaster in later years. Her parent's marriage was dysfunctional from the start. Her mother Doris moved off to live a lavish party-girl lifestyle when Priscilla was a youth. The building blocks of Priscilla's life was short-changed by inept parents. Priscilla grew up to be an emotionally insecure person. She desperately sought love, but with the wrong people.

My Thoughts:
1. Priscilla was a needy, clingy, insecure, anxious, dependent, superficial, fearful, person. And this was before the German Occupation of France. She chose to stay in France. She chose to marry and get mixed up with men she had relationships with. She chose the female friends she associated with. But, we cannot personally interview Priscilla. The book is pieced together by her nephew. I believe he did his best, but there are a couple of areas uncertain. Some responsibility must rest with her for choices she deliberately made. She was not a wise person, not savvy; then, add the fear of arrest and interrogation or death, she was crippled mentally and emotionally.
2. Priscilla, gave me another view and perspective of the year's in Paris under German Occupation.
3. I was not aware until reading this book of people in France not wanting to talk about the German Occupation.
4. I loved it that the author pulled me into the story. This is a non-fiction work, but neither dry nor suffocating in its narrative.
5. I believe Priscilla spent much of her time numb. Numb to all that had happened and was happening. She bounced off of one problem and on to another, never taking the time to rationally think, she only reacted.
6. I had moments while reading this book where I wanted to shake Priscilla, other moments where I felt she needed a quiet embrace. 


  1. I have this book but haven't had a chance to read it yet. It does sound very interesting, though it's too bad that Priscilla wasn't able to tell her own story or at least contribute to it.


Post a Comment