A Gathering Storm (by Rachel Hore)

I first read one of Rachel Hore’s books about five years ago, and liked it very much. So much so that I have gradually collected more of her books over the years. She writes thoughtful women’s fiction, saga style, usually blending present-day and past stories within family settings. It works well, and turns out to be similar to the theme in ‘A Gathering Storm’, her fifth novel, which I have just finished reading.

The prologue, set in the year 2000, features an elderly woman called Beatrice slipping into a chapel for a memorial service. We quickly learn that it’s for her friend Angie, yet she had not been in touch with her for many years. She is particularly interested in Angie’s son Tom and his teenage daughter Lucy; when the service finishes, she almost goes to speak to them but is prevented from doing so by another elderly woman whom she addresses as Hetty. And the prologue ends with Beatrice agonising over a lie... one that gradually unfolds in the rest of the book.

The years fast forward to 2011. Lucy, now in her twenties, is in a car with her boyfriend, clearly not on the best of terms. She want to explore an old family house; he does not want to. He is persuaded eventually, but then she decides to stay in the neighbourhood for a few days. And through various circumstances she finds herself chatting to Beatrice, now an old lady, who feels that it’s important to talk about the past, and why Lucy’s father - who has also died - was searching for some unknown uncle by the name of Rafe.

We then leap back to 1935. Young Beatrice, an only child, becomes friendly with the four Wincanton children who live nearby. Angie is the oldest and rather a selfish, spoilt teenager, although she can be very friendly and kind when she feels like it. They spend the summer together, and their lives are, thereafter, entwined irrevocably. Beatrice and Angie fall for the same young man, but their lives drift apart when Beatrice starts war work.

The pace of the novel was exactly right for me to read it over several evenings. The different time frames could have been confusing; every so often we return to 2011 as Beatrice becomes tired, and Lucy leaves for a while. The story is supposedly told over several days, but it’s not in the first person; instead it works well as lengthy flashbacks, looking into the past, helping Lucy to understand what life was like, and - gradually - what comprises Beatrice’s enormous long-held secret.

Long before the secret was revealed, I had guessed what it would be, but that didn’t matter at all. The story moved forward apace, and there were some quite exciting scenes as Beatrice becomes involved in secret work during the war, putting her life into grave danger. I have to say, I couldn’t quite reconcile her actually choosing to do this, given her circumstances - and although some of it was horrific, I knew that she was going to come through alive, since she was still around in 2011 to tell her story to Lucy.

I liked Lucy very much, and was pleased at the resolution of the book, although sad that Lucy’s father was not around to find out what had happened. I was slightly mystified, too, why Beatrice had not simply got in touch with Tom after Angie’s funeral, despite what Hetty said. But this kind of mild frustration with characters is indicative of excellent writing, making them feel very real to me.

All in all, I thought this a very readable and thought-provoking book.


Copyright Sue's Book Reviews, August 8th 2013

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