I was given a copy of What’s Left Unsaid by the author as a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT, in return for an honest review.
I gave this book 5*
Sasha is just about managing to hold her life together. She is raising her teenage son Zac, coping with an absent husband and caring for her ageing, temperamental and alcoholic mother, as well as holding down her own job. But when Zac begins to suspect that he has a secret sibling, Sasha realises that she must relive the events of a devastating night which she has done her best to forget for the past nineteen years.
Sasha’s mother, Annie, is old and finds it difficult to distinguish between past and present and between truth and lies. As Annie sinks deeper back into her past, she revisits the key events in her life which have shaped her emotionally. Through it all, she remains convinced that her dead husband Joe is watching and waiting for her. But there’s one thing she never told him, and as painful as it is for her to admit the truth, Annie is determined to go to Joe with a guilt-free conscience.
As the plot unfurls, traumas are revealed and lies uncovered, revealing long-buried secrets which are at the root of Annie and Sasha’s fractious relationship.
There are some books that grab you from the first page, even the first paragraph. What’s Left Unsaid did just that for me:
“If Annie had just been honest with me, we might have avoided much of the ugliness which followed… but she wasn’t and we didn’t…”
How could I resist? I didn’t! It helped when I realised the story is told in one of my favourite formats; it’s written from different points of view under the name of three characters: the protagonist, Sasha, her mother Annie and her late father, Joe. I especially liked Joe’s objective viewpoint that balanced out the subjective viewpoints of the other two characters as they describe the complex and difficult relationship between them. Even so, the question hovering throughout the text is what is truth and what is lies. It’s a cleverly written narrative and I loved the writing style of Deborah Stone; she moves from character to character, slipping easily into their voices, alternately moving the reader to understand each with empathy, yet being able to see the flaws in them as well.
The plot is tense and tightly woven, moving at different paces to reveal the secrets held for years held by this family. There are many themes: family secrets and deceptions, emotional power struggles between characters, dementia, miscommunications, understandings and forgiveness. All delicately intertwined throughout the text.
I always think that, when we reach a certain age we are formed by the things that we have done, what has happened to us, how we have been treated and how we have treated others. In What’s Left Unsaid the flashbacks to Annie’s earlier life reveal her vanity, her prejudices of others and her jealousy of her own daughter. As a reader I was torn between disliking much of what she was and yet having compassion for what she has become; a woman in the throes of dementia. The flashbacks of Joe’s earlier life show his Jewish family’s struggles to move from a totalitarian Russia at the end of the nineteenth century to the North of England where they face fascism and suffer poverty that they fight to escape, much as they have escaped from an oppressive regime.
The characters are many layered. The protagonist, Sasha is living in a loveless marriage and cannot understand either her husband, Jeremy, who has a secret of his own or her son, Zac, typically a monosyllabic, hormonal teenager. She has no closeness with her mother yet is forced to be deeply involved in her life. The author cleverly and subtly reveals the tensions hidden in Sasha, much as she does in all the major characters. Her internal dialogue initially shows her timidity, her nervousness, in the way she approaches her family. Yet there is also exasperation and even anger. And this comes out more and more as the story progresses.
Joe’s words, spoken from beyond the grave, are wise and, as I said earlier, objective. I felt they gave a distanced reflective view on human nature as a whole. Yet, through the dialogue and thoughts of the other characters, his personality in life is exposed to have had had the same flaws and weaknesses as their own.
Even without the story being allocated to each character the reader is left in no doubt who is speaking; each have their own distinctive voice.
The narrative describing the settings give a good sense of place and provide an interesting background to the story.
What’s Left Unsaid is a complex and poignant read. Thought provoking and absorbing it left me reflecting on the complexities of marriage and families. I would recommend this to readers who enjoy well-written family sagas
I was given this novel by the author as a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT in return for an honest review.
I gave Connectedness 4* out of 5*
TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD, ARTIST JUSTINE TREE HAS IT ALL… BUT SHE ALSO HAS A SECRET THAT THREATENS TO DESTROY EVERYTHING
Justine’s art sells around the world, but does anyone truly know her? When her mother dies, she returns to her childhood home in Yorkshire where she decides to confront her past. She asks journalist Rose Haldane to find the baby she gave away when she was an art student, but only when Rose starts to ask difficult questions does Justine truly understand what she must face.
Is Justine strong enough to admit the secrets and lies of her past? To speak aloud the deeds she has hidden for 27 years, the real inspiration for her work that sells for millions of pounds. Could the truth trash her artistic reputation? Does Justine care more about her daughter, or her art? And what will she do if her daughter hates her?
This tale of art, adoption, romance and loss moves between now and the Eighties, from London’s art world to the bleak isolated cliffs of East Yorkshire and the hot orange blossom streets of Málaga, Spain.
I enjoyed reading Connectedness. Although it is the second novel in the ‘Identity Detective’ series that features Rose Haldane, journalist and identity detective, who reunites the people lost through adoption, it can be read as a standalone novel. In Connectedness the story revolves around the protagonist, successful artist, Justine King, who discovers her life is, and has been, a web of lies and secrets. She is vulnerable and haunted by incidents that happened in her younger days as a student. The suspenseful plot is revealed through a clever blend of her past and present and has a steadily growing pace after an intriguing prologue.
There are numerous layers to this book, details that are cleverly drip-fed throughout to reveal many themes: of sadness and distress, memories, anger, grief, familial love, discovery, loss and regret.
The characters are well rounded and portrayed to evoke sympathy and understanding in the reader. Both the internal and spoken dialogue add to their credibility.
It is obvious the author has researched the art world that is the basis of the story. Research that adds to the character of the protagonist who uses her emotions, her fears, her pain, both consciously and unwittingly, when producing her work. There is a wonderful sense of art being part of both the human condition and the environment around us,
The descriptions of the settings of contemporary Filey in Yorkshire, Malaga in Spain in the eighties and London are evocative through the use of all the five senses and give a wonderful sense of place. At times I felt I was travelling alongside the protagonist in her journey of discovery.
And the denouement is poignant and satisfying.
Just the one reservation, and I’m sorry to say this, but I don’t like the title. If I hadn’t been intrigued by the book description and if I hadn’t loved the cover on first sight, I wouldn’t have chosen Connectedness. It doesn’t mean anything to me. Suffice it to say I’m glad I did choose this book.
This is the first book I’ve read by Sandra Danby It won’t be the last. The idea of the story itself is intriguing and she has a sensitive yet powerful writing style that I have no hesitation in recommending to readers who enjoy contemporary and women’s’ fiction.
About the author:
Sandra Danby is a proud Yorkshire woman, tennis nut and tea drinker. She believes a walk on the beach will cure most ills. Unlike Rose Haldane, the identity detective in her two novels, ‘Ignoring Gravity’ and ‘Connectedness’, Sandra is not adopted.
Judith waited for me in a department store while I waited for her in Cardiff Library. Would the meeting take place? Neither of us had thought to share our phone numbers prior to the meeting.
Judith emerged from the lift, in Cardiff Library, wearing a silk purple top that was co-ordinated with her fabulous lilac hair. I warmed to her instantly! Her beaming smile lit up her face and I knew she’d make me laugh. She travelled from Pembrokeshire to take part in a panel on agents, traditional and Indie publishing and agents at the Crime Cymru event, and her huge canvas bag bulged with goodies for the day ahead. I was lucky to grab some time with her.
Judith: At last, I thought you’d got lost in your handbag. I waited in the department store and realised I had no contact details. After I finished my mint tea, I asked three strange women if they were Jessie. They thought I was mad.
Judith’s Yorkshire accent and mischievous blue eyes instantly made me giggle. Great to meet someone who spoke the same lingo.
Jessie: I’m so sorry but I thought you’ be able to read my mind. Couldn’t you hear me calling you in my dulcet tones across the streets of Cardiff? Don’t ask me why I didn’t send you my mobile number and confirm the meeting. I also approached a couple of potential Judiths but the real Judith is much better. So pleased, I found a representative of Honno Press and she had your number.
We laughed and grabbed some coffee from a coffee station in Cardiff Library. The staff set up a couple of chairs for us to conduct the chat. Having spilt the coffee all over my hand, we settled down to chat about Judith.
Jessie: Judith, tell me what a Yorkshire lass is doing in Pembrokeshire.
Judith: We went on holiday to Pembrokeshire, loved it and never returned to Saddleworth. We bought a half-built house and renovated it.
Jessie: Do you miss Yorkshire?
Judith: Pembrokeshire was a great place for our kids to grow up. I miss Yorkshire stone, craggy landscape and the meandering moors. I love our house, in Pembrokeshire, but I always expected I’d live in a stone cottage in my old age. As you can hear, even after forty years in Wales my accent hasn’t changed – I’m still a Yorkshire lass. People say they can hear my voice in their heads when they read my books. Lucky them!
Jessie: Obviously, people love your voice as you have written eight books. How did the writing start?
Judith: Well, I hope they do. As for the writing, I’d written since I was a child but never done anything much about it. Then I went to night school with my daughter. I finished A Level English and went on to gain a degree through the Open University. Whilst studying for the degree, I had breast cancer, and this made me see life differently. I decided to follow my dream to become a writer. Initially, I had an agent but she wanted me to write as an author of Mills and Boon so I parted company with her.
Jessie: That’s ridiculous; your books are not of that genre. The books are historical fiction with engaging stories of the Howarth family. The books have complex plots and characters.
Judith: I write people driven, gritty dramas and wasn’t prepared to adapt my writing. Eventually, I got a contract with Honno Press – an independent publisher in Wales- and found their approach personal and supportive. My first book ‘Pattern of Shadows’
Jessie: What’s Pattern of Shadows about?
Judith: It’s the story of a nursing sister, Mary Howarth, and her family, during World War Two and is set around a POW camp located in a disused cotton mill in a Lancashire town. When I was a child my mother was a winder in a cotton mill and I would go there to wait for her to finish work; I remember the smell of the grease and cotton, the sound of the loud machinery and the colours of the threads and bales of material. Pattern of Shadows was meant to be a standalone book, but the characters wanted me to carry on with their lives. Eventually, it developed into a family saga trilogy. My recent book, the prequel, is A Hundred Tiny Threads. The two main characters, Winifred and Bill, are the parents of the protagonist in the trilogy, Mary Howarth. They wanted me to explain their, how they had become what they are in the trilogy. I was happy to; I think, as we get older, we are made by our life experiences.
Jessie: I’m reading One Hundred Tiny Threads. I’m about a third of the way through. It’s a great read. The opening is engrossing with Winifred waking up to another day in the shop. The characters are so real, and I love getting inside their heads. I’m shouting at them all the time. The way you thread the characters’ attitudes towards women is brilliant. I’m fascinated by the Suffragettes in Leeds. For some reason, I always imagined the movement to be concentrated in London.
Judith: Researching the Suffragettes opened up my eyes. I wanted to tell their story through the voices of the characters and show how women, in the society at that time, were ready for the change. Stories draw people into to the political background of the era, and life was certainly a challenge then. People say my books are dark. Have you got to the gory bits?
Jessie: Well, there has been a murder.
Judith: No, I’m thinking of scene after that – you wait. Bill’s a bastard but it’s his background. I don’t know why Winifred married him.
Jessie: Oh no, what was Winifred thinking of? I’m furious with her, as I haven’t read the terrible news yet. I’m intrigued as to why she didn’t marry the love of her life and scared for her.
Judith: oh ‘eck, hope I haven’t I haven’t spoiled it for you, Jessie. But, you must understand Bill had a terrible life as a child with his father. And then he was a soldier in the horrendous First World Wars. He was also one of the Black and Tans when he returned from the Front. He’s a bastard but didn’t have it easy. As I said, our lives shape us.
Jessie: I agree and people interest me too.
Judith: Yes, well your novel, You Can’t Go It Alone, is also character driven and could become a family saga. I can see it now. I want to know more about Luke and Rosa and their parents.
Jessie: I plan to do that, and you have inspired me to complete historical research. I would have to look carefully into the eras the generations were born into. Thanks for your advice.
Judith: No problem, I teach creative writing in Pembrokeshire, so I just can’t help myself (some would say it’s interfering!!). Writing is like looking at the world through the eyes of a child and I love it. I watch folk walk past my window, at home. It’s hilarious how people walk. I can’t stop people watching and passing it on through my books. I never stop watching and am always so busy.
Jessie: I notice you also organise Narberth Book Fair.
Judith: Yes, I organise it with a friend, author, Thorne Moore. It started in Tenby, but we had to move because we outgrew the venue with so many writers wanting to take part. I think it’s so important to attend these events; to get out there and meet the readers.
Jessie: What advice would you give to fledgling writers?
Judith: Get a professional editor and be prepared for a slog. The first draft of the book is the best bit. I always cry when I get my editor’s comments.
Jessie: Tell me, what have you got in your handbag today?
Judith handed me a copy of Pattern of Shadows and a book entitled Secrets; an anthology of short stories of the minor characters in the trilogy. She proceeded to let me in on the secret life of her handbag. She had some very colourful reading glasses, pens, more pens, bookmarks, a spare blouse, her mobile and an agenda.
Judith: As you can see I do love a bit of colour. I try to be organised and I absolutely love writing. I want you to place these books in your handbag and let the Howarth family keep you company. You’ll love some of the family and dislike some of the other – but that’s life!
Judith is fabulous fun, and I had a blast meeting with her. Meeting face to face is so much better than communicating on line. I delighted in her humour, straight-talking and infectious sense of fun. Judith is a natural storyteller, and this translates in her animated dialogue. She told me she is ‘living each day’. She thrives on her writing and engagement with authors. Her generosity was evident in her willingness to share the benefit of her experience.
Judith Barrow, originally from Saddleworth, near Oldham, and on the wrong side of the Pennines but still in Yorkshire, has lived in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for forty years.
She has an MA in Creative Writing with the University of Wales Trinity St David’s College, Carmarthen, a BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University and a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University. She has had short stories, plays, reviews and articles, published throughout the British Isles and has won several poetry competitions. She has completed three children’s books.
She is also a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council.
Winifred is a determined young woman eager for new experiences, for a life beyond the grocer’s shop counter ruled over by her domineering mother. When her friend Honora – an Irish girl, with the freedom to do as she pleases – drags Winifred along to a suffragette rally, she realises that there is more to life than the shop and her parents’ humdrum lives of work and grumbling. Bill Howarth’s troubled childhood echoes through his early adult life and the scars linger, affecting his work, his relationships and his health. The only light in his life comes from a chance meeting with Winifred, the daughter of a Lancashire grocer. The girl he determines to make his wife. Meeting Honora’s intelligent and silver-tongued medical student brother turns Winifred’s heart upside down and she finds herself suddenly pregnant. Bill Howarth reappears on the scene offering her a way out.
It’s twenty years today since my auntie left our home for the last time to go into care; eight years since she died. I wrote some of the following on each of those occasions. Now it seems almost unbelievable how much time has passed. I remember …
During our lives, Auntie Olive and I had three different relationships.
When I was a child I was told she was ‘someone very important in the civil service.’ She was a spinster in every way. I think I was as much a mystery to her as she was to me and we avoided each other as much as possible. But there was one occasion when we united in gleeful rebellion and it caused the only quarrel I can remember between her and my mother.
For a long time, when I was a child, my mother insisted on my having ringlets. Every night my hair was twisted into rags and my scalp lifted from my skull. It was sheer torture. Auntie Olive hated those ringlets as much as I did and one day, when I was ten, she put a pudding basin on my head and cut round it. I was overjoyed and imagined that I looked like George out of the Famous Five books. My mother was less impressed. She didn’t speak to my auntie for a whole month.
As I grew up my auntie took it upon herself to educate me in classical music but gave up the day she caught me gyrating to the Beatles. She then changed tactics and taught me ballroom dancing. We whirled up and down the hall of the tiny terraced house, where she lived and I can still do a mean waltz and quickstep, but only in straight lines; I never learned to turn corners. She showed me how to sew which came in very useful in the 60’s; it was surprising how many mini skirts a couple of yards of material could make. Most useful of all Auntie Olive taught me to drive and trusted my skills enough to lend me her car; which gave me a lot of kudos in our village (even if it was just a little blue Ford Popular). And, although we still didn’t understand each other’s ways, we were fond of one another.
So it seemed natural that, when my Nan died, Auntie Olive came to live with us in Pembrokeshire.
By that time I was married with children and she was not just my aunt; she had become a dear friend. Even so, with little patience for trivial pleasantries and the possession of an acerbic tongue, she demanded respect wherever she was and I was sometimes a little wary of her.
This made the adjustment to my next relationship with her very difficult.
Thirty years later Aunt Olive lives in the apartment, attached to our house. As she walks past my kitchen window she waves a peeled banana at me, which she intends to eat on the way to the shops. She does this every morning, perhaps to let me know she’s eating properly, perhaps as a joke. But, probably, she doesn’t even realise she’s doing it. All I know is that at one time my aunt would not have done something so ‘unseemly’ as to eat in the street.
As she walks down the drive I realise she has no skirt on.
‘You can’t go out just in your knickers, you’ll stop the traffic’ I joke and we go back to the house. We laugh. She and I laugh a lot these days; it’s the only way to cope. We both know she is trying to keep some control over her life and, more often than not, fails. When she stubbornly insists on wearing her vest over her cardigan; when I find her washing her soiled pyjamas in an overflowing bath, wearing a woolly hat because she can’t find the shower cap she thinks she should wear; when, for the tenth time, the smoke alarm shrieks because she has burned the toast, again, and we both run to waft at it with a tea towel, we laugh. Who cares?
I do, it’s heart breaking.
In our discussions on current affairs she pretends that she has read the newspaper, yet I know she can no longer read and after less than five minutes conversation I am repeating myself and she is the echo. She remembers her school days, her work in the War Office during the Second World War, a lover killed at Dunkirk. But she forgets that she has already had lunch and insists that I make her another; I feel chained to that damn cooker. Her nights and days are muddled and I am getting used to grilling bacon and frying eggs at three in the morning. It’s easier than trying to explain.
Sometimes she calls me by my mother’s name as we sit in the garden, and wonders where her own mother is. I have learned to play the game.
She loves the sun these days.
‘Warms my old bones.’ She says, wearing a floral sun hat, which she wouldn’t have been seen dead in ten years ago.
She has the same route around the village each day, paper shop, chemist, Post Office, Co-op. Not that she needs anything, I shop for her, but it’s her routine and at each place they are good enough to make sure she is heading back in the right direction. Sometimes she walks down the road as far as the cross roads. I watch from an upstairs window. She has begun to wander. She’s very clever at slipping out of the house without me knowing she has gone. I drive around in the car looking for her or I get a telephone call from some kind soul who has ‘captured’ her and is supplying tea and biscuits. And safety.
She’s started to flash her knickers at the man who takes her to the day centre once a week.
Now there is a third relationship I have with my aunt. I am a visitor. We no longer laugh at the silly things she does. I no longer help her to dress or eat. Someone else does all that now. They do it with love and care but it doesn’t stop the guilt i feel. Our conversations are a monologue. She sits and smiles at me. We hold hands. Sometimes she squeezes my fingers and when I look into her eyes I see the fear. I wrap my arms around her and whisper, ‘you’re safe, I’ve got you. It will be alright.’
As some of you may know, as well as holding private creative writing workshops, I also tutor creative writing for Pembrokeshire County Council. Tutoring adults can be rewarding (discovering wonderful writers), chaotic (my lesson plans are rarely followed – someone will inevitably take things off at a tangent) hilarious (the undiscovered comedian/ the completely unaware comedian) and thought-provoking (especially with memoir writing) Every now and then I like to share some of their work.
Last week I set the task of writing a Shadorma poem .
Below are Alex Abercrombie’s versions.
However, this first poem, written by him, was taken tongue in cheek by me… yet, I suppose, is one I could even blatantly use as promotion for Pattern of Shadows
for Judith Barrow
She tried so hard,
But both her sons
Turned out feral.
One of them
Raped a woman.
Someone drowned him,
Then worse followed –
Randy for revenge
Traced and murdered
The wrong man.
Hang on, though –
Haven’t we heard
This tale told far
Same web of dark
A piffling excuse
Oh, Judith –
You try so hard
To make even
Scum seem human,
Misread you) your
At things folk
Do to each other
Is what really
Drives your pen.
As I said above, these are Alex’s versions of the Shadorma.
The Shadorma is a poem made up of a stanza of six lines
(sestet) with no set rhyme scheme.
It is a syllabic poem with a meter of 3/5/3/3/7/5.
It can have many stanzas, as long as each follows the meter.
Little is known about this poetic style’s origins and history
but it is used by many modern poets today.
This variation of the haiku, which is evident by its syllable pattern,
can be seen in use in many writing venues.
This are Alex’s. In the following first stanza these are his words not mine!!
I was lucky enough to win a copy of It’s Who We Are and gave the book 4*out of 5*
Five friends in their fifties find themselves dealing with unforeseen upheaval as they uncover long-hidden and devastating family secrets. Meanwhile, the world around them seems to be spinning out of control. The events of It’s Who We Are take place between October 2016 and June 2017, against a backdrop of all the political uncertainty and change in the UK, Europe and America. The story is set in East Anglia, London and Ireland, and is about friendship, kindness and identity. Most importantly, it highlights how vital it is to reach for what enhances rather than depletes you
This a contemporary read set against the detailed background of political upheaval, both through Brexit, the Trump presidency and economical uncertainly. And there are some wonderful descriptions of the city of London and County Kerry in Ireland that give a great sense of place and the portrayal of the homes and work places belonging to the characters are really well written.
I did like the author’s easy to read style of writing and, right from the start of the novel, became engrossed in the plot which centres initially on the lives of five characters in their middle-ages:
Wendy, a career woman, on the brink of the disintegration of her marriage with elderly parents and two sons who are making their own way in life.
Julian, a single gay man, struggling with his career as a performer ans singer.
Philip, whose uncertainty with his marriage leads him to take a younger lover and is convinced he need to make radical changes to his life. His elderly mother is a vibrant active woman who owns an exclusive hotel in the West of Ireland.
Araminta, lonely and struggling with life in general,with an elderly father in a nursing home.
Michael, an Irish Catholic priest, lonely and questioning his faith.
All wonderfully rounded characters, with many layered personalities, whose both spoken and internal dialogue distinguishes them on the page.
The book, initially split into short sections that enlarge on, and give insight to, the lives of each of the characters is fascinating and I thoroughly enjoyed the first two thirds of It’s Who We Are. And I gradually realised that, somehow, they were all connected.And, indeed, friendships were formed.
And it was at this point I needed to suspend disbelief; all the characters, in one way or another, had shared histories or once removed coincidental relationships with one another. And, in a few short months, formed extremely close friendships to the exclusion of any other acquaintances. The descriptions of the way these characters interacted was extremely well written but it did seem to be an extremely insular portrayal.
I don’t give away spoilers in my reviews so I won’t dwell on the revelation that the plot then pivots on. But it is following that disclosure that, for me, the coincidences became too many and too easy. I bow to the author’s knowledge as a trained psychotherapist; her obvious expertise on issues of personal identity. And I did appreciate the wonderful balance between sadness and loss, juxtaposed with joy and contentment instilled in her writing. But, as the book progressed through the last third of the story, I just felt it was both a little rushed and that all the issues were tied up too neatly.
All that said, I will reiterate that I did like Christine Webber’s style of writing and I’m glad I had the opportunity to read It’s Who We Are. Despite the points I made above I did enjoy the read and would recommend this novel.
One last observation; I love the cover; the slightly out-of-focus head-shots, the seascape,the idea of the freedom of flight through the images of the birds, the mutes colours. Wonderful!
After a break of 29 years to write over a dozen non-fiction titles, Christine Webber returned to writing fiction in 2016. The result was a novel called ‘Who’d Have Thought It?’ which is a romantic comedy about the change and challenges we encounter in mid-life. ‘Who’d Have Thought It?’ is now also available as an audio book – both in digital and CD format.
Christine is a former singer, TV presenter, agony aunt, columnist and Harley Street psychotherapist.
Nowadays she is focusing on fiction – though she still pops up on the radio from time to time.
I received a review copy of this book from Honno Press, the Welsh Women’s Press, as I was intrigued by the idea of a book which swept through so much history through the eyes of one woman. Winifred lives and works in a shop in a grim mining town in 1911. Her parents own and run the general shop, and her mother’s sharp temper and determination to keep Winifred working mean that her horizons are, and always have been severely limited. Bill, a miner, is first seen trapped by a misplaced explosion in a mine, reflecting on his probable death and his dislike of his step-family. In many ways they are alike, but all the circumstances of their lives suggest that they will never meet, let alone come together. This novel is a family saga without the central family; personal dislike and forces beyond their control mean that these are two individuals struggling to survive in challenging social circumstances.
Winifred is tempted away from her home by chance meetings with Honora, an unconventional artist who has become an active worker for woman’s suffrage. This is not genteel campaigning but marches and protests which lead to violence and arrest, even death, for those women who become involved. I was not sure why Winifred becomes a speaker for this small group, but her absences from the shop annoy her mother and force her father to shield her. Winifred meets Conal, Honora’s attractive and clever brother, and becomes involved with him. She is horrified by her grandmother’s living conditions which have resulted from family losses and her own mother’s harsh unyielding personality. Developments within the shop and the campaign mean that Winifred becomes more isolated and more desperate.
Bill survives the accident but is unable to continue working at the mine; he travels away and encounters Winifred while trying to scrape enough to survive. He becomes entranced by her and takes desperate action to try and gain her interest. Terrible events graphically described force him into fighting in the War which is just as hideous as can be imagined. This is a novel which pulls no punches in describing death; I cannot say that there is much light or joy in any of its narrative.
This is an immense book which traces those pushed by events and a War which affected everyone in the country. The intense details leave little to the imagination as the struggle to survive is real and incrementally built as loved ones go and unyielding hatred makes loss worse. It is a layered view of life as characters find challenges on many fronts. Barrow has a keen eye for detail which builds up a feeling of reality in this chronicle of lives lived in harsh situations. The writing is painfully real and feels just as overwhelming as life; decisions quickly taken lead far into the story as a whole. This is apparently a book which precedes three others relating to the same family through several generations. Certainly it is just as diverse, with as many backstories and complicated feelings as real families tend to inherit. There are many elements of tragedy here as well as determined love and strands of hope. This is a superb book for those who like their novels immersive and intense, real life of people around them in times of trial and progress.