The Light Over London by Julia Kelly

 The Light Over London cover

The Light Over London by Julia Kelly was first published in 2019. It’s a dual time novel with the setting being in WW2 London 1941 and 2017 Gloucestershire. This type of structure often works well but at times they can be annoying if you are enjoying the story and the timeline suddenly switches away from it. The author is American but is now living in London.

Cara has recently divorced and relocated to Gloucestershire where she has got a job with an antiques dealer who does house clearances. When she finds a wartime diary in an old tin while helping with valuations and house clearing she asks her boss Jock if she can keep the diary and he’s happy for her to do so. The diary has been written by a woman who had run away and joined the army to do her bit, rather than stay at home and marry the young man that her rather bullying mother had planned out for her future.

The diary comes to an abrupt end and Cara is keen to find out what happened. She’s helped in her task by Liam, her new and rather good-looking neighbour. So the book contains two romances and a bit of a mystery, unfortunately for me it just didn’t work, in fact there are so many anomalies in the writing that I took to keeping a note of them, this might seem like nit-picking but if you are setting a book in England and all the characters are English then it’s important not to import Americanisms into it as it jars so badly.

The most obvious one was the use several times of the word purse where it should have been handbag.

The word blond was used to describe a woman but the ‘e’ also appeared in the next sentence, otherwise it was without the ‘e’.

The word stand-down was used in relation to the end of the war.

Card shark is used a few times, it should of course be card sharp, I have no idea if card shark is American.

Ticket taker should be ticket collector.

Do you think Princess Elizabeth will serve? The phrase in the UK is/was join up.

Off ramp was used when it should have been slip road, and tea kettle was used instead of just kettle.

In other words the book is in need of being edited to weed out the incongruous Americanisms – as well as the cornier romance parts.

15 thoughts on “The Light Over London by Julia Kelly

  1. I would be annoyed by those issues too. I can forgive if there aren’t too many and they’re not too obvious but the examples you give are glaringly obvious. Fine if you’re writing for an American audience I suppose but not for me.

    • Sandra,
      I agree although I think that the appeal of such a book for an American audience would be the British atmosphere which isn’t helped with American terms.

  2. That is poor editing, isn’t it? What I think is interesting is that, while the terms are Americanisms, they are not necessarily the right ones for the time period. I looked up card shark and the first example of its use in print is in 1942 so I think card sharp would have been more usual at the time. Also, I think both my grandmothers would have said handbag instead of purse and I have never heard the term ticket taker. I can see why you found the issues irritating.

    • Jennifer,
      Interesting, I hadn’t even heard the term card shark and assumed that she had misheard it, it isn’t in my dictionaries but they are quite ancient! Ticket taker seemed particularly clunky and I assume she just couldn’t think of the correct word and meant to go back to it but forgot. I had no idea that the use of the word purse for handbag is fairly modern in the US.

      • I was thinking about it and my grandmothers would probably have used the word pocketbook which I know makes no sense but it is an old-fashioned, east coast term.

        • Jennifer,

          Well I have read the word pocketbook but I imagined it to be something like what I would call a wallet. For some reason I thought it would be for putting folding money in, but I think that might be called a billfold where you are.

          • I would call that a wallet too (though Monte would say billfold) and years ago a pocketbook could have meant a wallet. Nowadays, it means a handbag. When I moved out to the midwest when I got married everyone looked at me funny when I used the word pocketbook. It is definitely an old New England term. Isn’t language interesting?

  3. I like novels with a dual narrative in two different times, but I agree it is problematic when the reader gets pulled from one story to another at a critical point in that part of the story.

    I probably would not have noticed most of the issues with terminology, but it does make sense to use the correct terms for the time and place. Otherwise, why have use the time and place settings?

    • tracybham,
      I think some people in the US are really drawn to an English/British setting so it would even be disappointing to them to be drawn away from that sort of atmosphere. I believe that the author has a British mother so she should have had an advantage where English/American vocabulary is concerned.

  4. I think when an author is an Anglophile she assumes she has the right vocabulary but is often wrong!

    My mother gave me this book for Christmas in 2019 and I have not read it yet. There’s a newer one as well.

    Similarly, the 19th century UK hero of the book I was reading last night said, “I guess” which I definitely think of as a 20th century Americanism.

    • Constance,

      You’ve reminded me of something else that was wrong in it – nobody in 1941 England said ‘gotten’ nor would they have said ‘fit’ when they meant fitted. You should still give the book a go though as it wasn’t awful, it was just annoying in parts and I guessed the ending as I thought it was fairly obvious.

  5. I’ve lived on both sides of the pond and I’m an author. When it comes to publishing, the problem isn’t always the author. I’ve wrestled with flashlight/torch in a British setting, for example. An American publisher insisted on flashlight and flashlight it became. The rationale was that Americans wouldn’t know what a torch was. So this isn’t just an editing issue. It’s a “who’s publishing it” issue.

    • Aline,
      I can see that happening, my husband used to write and has had similar arguments. Mind you in older books they would always write electric torch which might be more easily understood in the US. It would be easy enough to change the vocabulary in different editions for each side of the pond, but I suppose would cost something. I have a feeling that there are some people who work in publishing but can have a surprisingly tin ear and might also have a low estimation of their readers.

  6. That’s one of my pet annoyances and these sound pretty bad! I often wonder if British authors annoy American readers the same way, when they write books set in America. It’s so lazy – all they need to do is get a Brit to read it for them before they publish it.

    • FictionFan,
      I agree although it would have to be someone that they really trusted. Some years ago I read a book set in Scotland which featured a church minister. The author thanked a minister in the author’s notes at the end of the book – for checking that she had got the details correct. Obviously he just told her it was fine when in fact it couldn’t have been more wrong and even had what was supposedly a Church of Scotland minister meeting with his bishop and had various other RC details going on – and it couldn’t have been Episcopalian either. I suppose it shows that you should write about what you know.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *