The Excitements: A Novel
Anyone seeking respite from serious matters, or excitements of their own, would do well to grab a copy of British writer CJ Wray’s novel, The Excitements.
Inspired by two real sisters who served in women’s services during World War II, the book has Wray imagining another set of sisters, now in the late nineties, who continue to seek adventures long after their wartime acts of courage and resistance. They are Josephine, the milder of the two, and Penelope, and both live life to the fullest with the motto Toujours gai, along with the devoted help of their great nephew Archie and their companion Arlene.
During the war Josephine served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRENS) while the more daring Penny was with the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) after being dismissed from the Special Operations Executive (SOE) after she froze on her first attempt to jump out of an airplane behind enemy lines in France. Penny has a penchant for shoplifting fine jewelry but all in the name of good causes. She’s also adept at thwarting physical threats.
Wray skillfully and with great humor takes readers along on the sisters’ jaunts, one of which takes place in Paris where they have gone to receive military honors for their war service. It’s a true romp. Accompanied by Archie and Arlene, they manage to escape danger and continue being Toujours gai as they approach one hundred with sass and sparkle.
There are other subplots in the story and a small but brilliantly drawn set of characters, aptly described by the author, which adds to the fun. So too does the crisp, clever dialogue that takes place among them. Readers also get a glimpse of Josephine and Penny as young women whose lives include romance and a few surprising twists.
CJ Wray is the pseudonym of Christine Manby, a bestselling author with over 40 books to her credit. She’s had her own adventures, including working with a reformed armed robber. That’s likely why she spins such a good tale of adventure, romance, extraordinary characters, hilarious events, and spirited aging. She surely must also live by the sisters’ motto: Toujours gai seems to work wonders for her, too.