Readers in general seem very mixed about this novel. Some loved it. Others were disappointed or bored. In this blog, I will briefly tease out what made this novel work, and what didn’t, as well as how to fix it.
What makes this novel a gem
What makes this novel a gem that is worth reading despite its flaws is the time that author Rachel Hore took to delineate her characters so that we could feel their jealousy, their rage, their sorrow, and the ebb and flow of shape-shifting emotions as they evolved in front of us.
However, this is not to say there weren’t problems, which explained the many negative reviews.
This is a pacing issue. As the book hit its stride, as it became obvious that this was a braided narrative with alternating chapters about husband Philip’s unimaginable hardships after the Dunkirk disaster in June 1940, which led him to being trapped in France, with wife Maddie’s dealings with Philip’s relatives in Norfolk, it was unfortunate to have that steady pace interrupted by the very sudden return of Philip back to England.
One minute, Philip is lying on a pallet in a prison cell in Perpignan, his attempted escape over the Pyrenees to Spain thwarted by the Nazis.
The next, Philip is stepping off a boat, safe and sound in England.
Given the way this novel was paced up until that point, the author owed the reader at least one more chapter that showed us how Philip got from his Nazi prison cell back to England.
But perhaps the author was missing a Simon-&-Schuster-imposed deadline?.
In any event, that muff destroyed the pacing of the novel.
The novel begins in the wrong place
But the more serious issue is the way in which the novel begins. The framing device completely destroys the tension of Grace’s disappearance towards the end of the novel.
Obviously, if Grace is waiting in a tea shop for an unknown woman in 1977, at the beginning of the novel, she can’t have vanished into thin air or been murdered in 1941 towards the end!
Again, that blunder shows signs of haste.
These mistakes could have been avoided by easy fixes.
All that the author and/or Simon & Schuster need have done was:
- Cut out the frame of the novel entirely, so that this whole charade about the unknown sister at the end of the novel plus Grace waiting for her at the beginning was ditched. The frame didn’t add anything to the story and actually detracted from it. Instead, the novel could have started with Maddie being bombed out of her house, and the meeting with Philip handled in a flashback. Alternatively, the novel could have started with the meeting between Maddie and Philip and progressed forward chronologically. In any event, as the novel was about Philip and Maddie, it would have made much more sense to have started the novel with them.
- Cut the whole scene where the Nazis catch Philip and his companions as they attempt to cross the Pyrenees. Why not have Philip and his companions meet the guide at Perpignan, and disappear into the distance as they climb the Pyrenees without any Nazi thugs interfering? That would have solved the whole problem of Philip’s return to England because it would have seemed natural and not sudden.
Why Simon & Schuster didn’t do these cuts, (which would have taken me 15 minutes max,) I have no idea.
Five for the heart of the novel,
One for the uncut/unedited blunders.