16/08/2010

The Very Thought of You (by Rosie Alison)

I'd never heard of Rosie Alison, despite her debut novel having been shortlisted for the Orange Fiction prize in 2010. I don't usually choose to read books about the wars years - though in fact I've read several - and would probably not have come across this book at all, if it hadn't been a surprise present from a friend.

'The very thought of you' opens in 1939. Eight-year-old Anna is about to be evacuated. Her father is overseas, fighting for England, and her mother really doesn't want to part with her daughter. But children were all supposed to be sent to the country during World War II, since London was a prime target for bombing. So Anna and her mother have a last, wonderful day together and she's then sent, with the rest of her class, on a train into the unknown.

Anna is an independent and loving child. Due in part to her own initiative, she finds herself as part of a temporary school in a large country house in Yorkshire. She misses her mother, of course, and finds it hard to fit in with the other, less thoughtful children with her. However she's dimly aware that her situation is a great deal better than that of many other children. She's well-treated, well-fed, and continues to be educated.

Anna finds herself drawn to the owners of the estate: Thomas Ashton, wheelchair-bound and a lover of poetry, and his strict, stressed wife Elizabeth. She overhears things she should not have heard, and begins to think deeply about the nature of love, and adult relationships.

The book is beautifully written, well-researched and seems realistic. Some of the characters are a bit flat, and there are some unpleasant scenes, one of which - at least - was unexpected and (in my view) rather over-brutal. However, they probably add to the realism of the novel. The last part takes place when Anna is an adult, and the ending is bittersweet, but it works.

It took me a few weeks to read this, partly because I was busy, and partly because it was thought-provoking enough that I only wanted to read a few pages at a time in the evenings. I'm pleased to have had the opportunity to read something I would not otherwise have picked up, and will look out for future books by this author.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 16th August 2010

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