I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for The Operator by Gretchen Berg today. This is a wonderful and original novel that I thoroughly enjoyed.
It’s 1952. The switchboard operators in Wooster, Ohio, love nothing more than to eavesdrop on their neighbours’ conversations, and gossip about what they learn. Vivian Dalton is no different (despite her teenage daughter’s disapproval), and always longs to hear something scandalous. But on the night of December 15th, she wishes she hadn’t. The secret that’s shared by a stranger on the line threatens to rip the rug of Vivian’s life from under her.
Vivian may be mortified, but she’s not going to take this lying down. She wants the truth, no matter how painful it may be. But one secret tends to lead to another…
This moving, heart-felt and ultimately uplifting novel brilliantly weaves together an irresistible portrayal of a town buzzing with scandal, and an unforgettable story of marriage, motherhood and the unbreakable ties of family.
I love the concept behind the novel, which sees switchboard operators in the 1950s listening in on the calls they connect. While very much against the rules, I can understand the temptation to listen in, particularly in a small town like Wooster where most people know each other but secrets are still rife. By this clandestine eavesdropping, Vivian Dalton and her fellow operators are often among the first to hear about the gossip of their small town. Vivian longs to hear about something truly scandalous, and her wish is fulfilled in a way she never expected when she hears a rumour that affects her directly. In the space of one short phone call, her life is turned upside down.
Vivian is an exceptionally proud woman. Forced to leave school early to start earning an income, she never graduated and feels the lack of her education (although she would never admit to it), particularly when faced with her increasingly intelligent daughter, Charlotte. Vivian does come across as a little superficial at times – she is dismissive of anything that she doesn’t understand, which for Vivian is many things. Her daughter is such a different character, and while Vivian should be proud, I think that she senses a growing distance as Charlotte begins to show her potential to outstrip Vivian.
Vivian’s family is of the utmost importance to her, and this makes the gossip that spreads about her all the more hurtful, and I couldn’t help but feel sympathetic towards her. She is a nice person, and while eavesdropping – a habit she picked up as a child – isn’t a particularly endearing trait, I did feel sorry for her. I loved seeing the progression in Vivian’s character over the course of the novel. She makes some smart moves in dealing with the fallout of the rumour – driven largely by a need to keep up appearances and to show everyone that she’s fine – and she realises that she does not have to accept her circumstances, and that she can be more than she is.
There’s a wonderful subplot running through the novel featuring a robbery from Wooster’s bank. Gilbert Ogden and Flora Parker abscond with $250,000, with Flora also leaving behind her husband, Bill. The police and Wooster’s own private detective seem to have no luck tracing them, and they settle down away from Wooster. I love this subplot – I liked the way in which it developed over the course of the novel, including some unexpected twists. It’s an engaging thread, and I was interested to see if and how it would become relevant to Vivian’s own story.
The Operator is a wonderful novel – touching and heartfelt with a little dash of comedy thrown in, it’s a novel that will take you through the whole gamut of human emotion as you follow the journey of Vivian and the other residents of Wooster, Ohio. The Operator is partly inspired by the life of Gretchen Berg’s own grandmother, and this makes the narrative all the more engaging. I loved the inclusion of the recipes that Vivian follows as she uses baking as a coping mechanism which came – verbatim – from Gretchen’s grandmother, and I thought that these added a wonderful little touch to the story and helped to evoke the 1950s for the reader.
The Operator was published on 10 March by Headline. Many thanks to the publisher and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the review copy and the opportunity to take part in the blog tour.
Make sure you check out the other wonderful bloggers taking part in the tour: