England, 31st August 1939: the world is on the brink of war. As Hitler prepares to invade Poland, thousands of children are evacuated from London to escape the impending Blitz. Torn from her mother, eight-year-old Anna Sands is relocated with other children to a large Yorkshire estate which has been opened up to evacuees by Thomas and Elizabeth Ashton, an enigmatic childless couple. Soon Anna gets drawn into their unhappy relationship, seeing things that are not meant for her eyes – and finding herself part-witness and part-accomplice to a love affair, with tragic consequences. A story of love, loss and complicated loyalties, combining a sweeping narrative with subtle psychological observation.
This book was given to me to read by a co-worker, and as our reading tastes are usually similar I looked forward to reading this debut novel from this Author. I will come straight out now and say the only reason this book received the two thumbs it did is because it is located in my home county of Yorkshire, England.
However, if you like books with multiple characters, each with their own separate plot and agenda, this may be the book for you. I found the profusion of characters and plots became rather confusing after a while, and this nearly resulted in my consigning it to my empty ‘did not finish’ pile. The reason it did not end up there was the hope I held that when I turned the next page the development of the main protagonist would start and the storyline proper would then get underway. Unfortunately this was not to be the case and I’m not sure if it is the sheer number of characters that prevented this, or sympathy for the Author that they may have been a little unsure of themselves in this area of their writing. I feel that if the Author had pared down the amount of characters in the novel, and concentrated some of that energy into the development of the key ones, this would have become a much better, if not compelling, read.
What a disappointment, I was expecting a book based around the evacuees from the London Blitz and the way it affected them both mentally and physically; I was expecting maybe something more along the lines of ‘Good Night, Mr. Tom’, but received a rehashing of parts of ‘The Go-Between’ and ‘Atonement’ without any of the plot development or characters that would truly make it worth the time I invested in reading this. I feel that an outstanding editor would have been able to point out these issues to the Author, and with gentle guidance been able to help them turn this into a fresh perspective on love and happiness.
The ending of this book was the final nail in the coffin for me; most of the novel takes place during World War II, and when I say most it is probably about 75% of the book, then in the final 25% the Author suddenly felt the need to cram sixty years into about 50 pages; no explanation or tie in to the rest of the book, just ‘here it is’. In this particular case this is one of those books that would have been better off left with an open-ending without the Author feeling the need to tie everything up neatly.
Unfortunately I don’t feel I could recommend this book to any one group of readers, but it may be something that book clubs would enjoy dissecting at their meetings.