shortlisted for Book Of The Month
"This is a very long book but if there were any errors in the way of typos etc., then I was too engrossed to notice! None of the characters struck me as stereotypes, each one had their own story, their own point of view and, above all, their own secrets. As one who lived in Margate for some years, I can wholeheartedly vouch for the accurate descriptions of the town"
1920 - post World War I
Although this is essentially the story of four people – Evelyn, Catherine, William and Edward – the lives of many other characters are skilfully interwoven into the narrative to present an overview of the way The Great War affected so many lives.
The book begins with a scene-setter; a young man, Patrick, meets Evelyn and Catherine at Westminster Abbey in 1940 for an annual pilgrimage to the Grave of the Unknown Soldier. Thereafter the action takes place twenty years earlier through the summer of 1920 in the English seaside town of Margate. Edward is a promising musician, his stint at the Royal College of Music interrupted by the outbreak of war. Though he survived, he was badly injured and wears a face mask to cover his mutilations. Laudanum and Morphine stave off the headaches caused by shrapnel lodged inside his skull, but as we get further into the book we see him suffering more and more. William, formerly Lieutenant Edward's sergeant, acts as his agent and has obtained Edward a season at Margate's Winter Gardens. There they meet Evelyn and Catherine who work at the theatre and it looks like romance might be in the air. But William is a bit of a lad with an eye for the main chance and soon falls for Georgette, a French-born widow with a six-year-old son and Edward is so conscious of the effects that his injuries have on people that he refuses to accept that Evelyn has affections for him. Not that she makes any advances towards him; she is a vicar's daughter without any sexual experience at all.
There are a lot of characters who come into the story, introduced gradually by the author so that we do not get confused or the action becomes overcrowded. My favourite of these is Catherine's Aunt Beatrice; an indomitable woman who owns a guest house, is looking to open a second one, speaks in very long, unbroken sentences, is loaded and knows more of the world than she lets on.
There are also a lot of sub-plots: Edward's obsession to find the parents of one of his soldiers who was killed by the same shell that maimed him, an homage to the real life surgeons and hospitals who did such brilliant work for the wounded and one of the real but minor character's notion of a national tomb of an unknown victim of the war to represent all those who died and have never been identified. Oh, and the occasional reference to 'a Blue Bench' is finally explained near the end.
This is a very long book – somewhere around 600 pages and if there were any errors in the way of typos etc., then I was too engrossed to notice! None of the characters struck me as stereotypes, each one had their own story, their own point of view and, above all, their own secrets. As one who lived in Margate for some years, I can wholeheartedly vouch for the accurate descriptions of the town, bringing back many memories for me, especially of the jetty which I saw destroyed by the great storm of 1987!
This is a highly accomplished book by an author who allows you inside his characters and I really cannot recommend it highly enough
© Richard Tearle
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