Riverhead Books, New York, 2011
From my TBR pile. This novel was long-listed for the 2006 Orange Prize.
A novel of World War 11 written so that it takes the reader back in time from 1947 to 1941. Waters gives us the stories of five characters living through that war in London. The characters connect and intertwine with each other in many ways, some of which are unknown to each of them.
The four women and one man struggle with personal choices, family pressure and society. Three of the women are entangled in a love-affair, one is helped through a life-changing event by sheer accident and the young man, imprisoned for a crime the reader can only guess at, is connected by blood and history to the others.
Sarah Waters’ writing brings the thoughts and emotions of her characters to life. Dialogue tells the stories, descriptive language creates the atmosphere. Sometimes not muchseems to be happening but inner dialogue builds up personal histories, some filled with happiness, some with regret and a sense of longing. Longing for the past, for different choices and always there is the war.
He lost his footing, then righted himself and went on without speaking. Partridge was coughing because of the dust. Mickey was rubbing grit from her eyes. The chaos was extraordinary. Every time Kay put down her feet, things cracked beneath them, or wrapped themselves around her ankles: broken window-glass mixed up with broken mirrors, crockery, chairs and tables, curtains, carpets, feathers from a cushion or a bed, great splinters of wood. The wood surprised Kay, even now: in the days before the war she’d imagined houses were made more or less solidly, of stone – like the last Little Pig’s, in the fairy tale. What amazed her, too, was the smallness of the piles of dirt and rubble to which even large buildings were reduced. This house had three intact floors to it, and hour before; the heaps of debris its front had were no more than six or seven feet high. She supposed that houses, after all – like the lives that were lived in them – were mostly made of space. It was the spaces, in fact, that counted, rather than the bricks. From page 172.
These characters live in a time when their choices, how they live their lives, who they love, put them in danger. Waters’ sensitivity and attention to detail brings the fullness of their lives to the reader without being overly dramatic. This is a brave and beautiful book.