A debut novel by Rosie Alison, better known as a film and TV producer and director, this is an accomplished and moving novel about love; the search for connections and meaning in life; the failure of people to communicate, brought about by a sense of propriety; and the ability of love, when realised, to give both meaning and a vitality to life.
The telling of the tale never crosses the line into sentimentality, a trap into which it would have been easy to fall and which the author appears to have been trying particularly hard to avoid, but the story is crafted with a level of skill that belies its ‘first book’ status. The period detail – from the time of the Second World War, and beforehand – is evocative and the impact of the extraordinary events of the time having a resonance on those who experience them years into the future is wholly believable (I’m writing this at the time of the 70th anniversary of the evacuation of Dunkirk). It may occasionally appear to suffer from a multitude of voices rather than a single one, such that the central character of the tale is constantly shifting, but the overall effect is to add to the author’s theme: that the search for love and tenderness is a universal, and dominant, theme.
The novel is not without its flaws – there is a shifting pace in different sections and the author is occasionally guilty of a ‘reportage’ writing style – but these shouldn’t blind us to its achievements: this is a period novel which has something fresh to say about its subject matter.