I initially thought that this was going to be an England during WW2 story. But this is not a WW2 story. This is a beautiful story of survival, love, and strength, which is centered around something that happens in WW2. I initially made a beeline for it because I thought it was a WW2 story, but as the story developed I found myself falling in love with the characters, and with village life in southern England.
On the night of a terrible German bombing campaign on Southampton in England, Ellen Parr finds a little girl sleeping on one of the evacuation bus seats. The child’s mother dies in the bombing and the rest of her family has disappeared or has no interest in her, so Ellen and her husband take her in to live with them in their small village. And then, three years later, little Pamela’s father comes to find her and take her away with him, leaving Ellen bereft.
The story starts during WW2 but skips back and forth between Ellen’s childhood (from riches to rags because of her father’s bad investments), and her meeting with her husband Selwyn Parr, and then moves forward to the 1970’s and then to now (or nowish). It’s a story steeped in hardships and sadness, but equally in love and friendships that last longer than generations. I fell in love with Ellen’s character, her inability to forget, and the love she bestows on those around her.
The story is beautifully written and reminds me of sweeping epic novels by the Bronte sisters, a little Jane Austenesque with a smidge of Dickens too. Frances Liardet’s style takes me back to a time when I used to devour classics and be amazed at how a writer could use descriptions of a place to describe a feeling, an emotion. This isn’t a fast-paced novel, but the slow rhythm is perfect for the story. Frances Liardet creates a world and opens the door for us to enter. It made me imagine my birth village on the cusp of war too, imagining a life spent living in the same place, with the same people who know you inside and out.
I wasn’t ready for this one to finish... I fell in love with the village of Upton, with the countryside, the people, and especially with Ellen, Lucy, and William. And I fell in love with the way Frances Liardet writes and creates: I’m so glad I picked this book to read.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy!