The Orange Prize Short List had been announced, Waterstones screamed a 40% off with free postage, and I had the irresistible urge to buy a book. I mulled over which book to pick – I don’t have the time to read all the six books on the short list, but wouldn’t it be awesome if I read just one and that turned out to be the winner?
|With the undying optimism we all reserve for the underdog, I decided on Rosie Alison’s The Very Thought of You. Aferall, it is not every year that a book makes it into a major award’s short list without even a single major paper reviewing it.|
I want to say Rosie Alison’s The Very Thought of You is the story of a young girl who finds herself evacuated to a country house during the war. But it is more than that – it is a book of many love stories – some lost, some found, some forbidden, some lifelong. The book jacket puts it thus:
England, 31st August 1939: the world is on the brink of war. As Hitler prepares to invade Poland, thousands of children are evacuated from London to escape the impending Blitz. Torn from her mother, eight-year-old Anna Sands is relocated with other children to a large Yorkshire estate which has been opened up to evacuees by Thomas and Elizabeth Ashton, an enigmatic childless couple. Soon Anna gets drawn into their unravelling relationship, seeing things that are not meant for her eyes – and finding herself part-witness and part-accomplice to a love affair, with unforeseen consequences.
It is an engaging read – the narrative is tight, the language is beautiful and the characters are interesting. I finished the book in three days, which given the current state of my mind – constantly distracted by baby antics – speaks volumes of how much I enjoyed this story.
The sure sign of a book I love is that it makes me want to put it down and write – the first part of the book definitely did that for me. Told from an eight year old’s perspective, the scenes where she leaves her home and enters a new place is so vividly portrayed that you can almost smell the English country air, marvel at the grand old country house and be the girl vacillating between fear and excitement. That is the beauty of a coming-of-age tale, isn’t it? When beautifully written, it almost always lets us relive our own rites of passage. Here, you see young Anna leaving her mother and then starting out on the journey:
She yawned in the heat; there wasn’t much air. She felt odd – excited and suspended in a strange new world, where anything might happen. She did not miss her mother yet, because she was still so firmly rooted inside her – her face, her voice, her touch.
She longed for the seaside.
A great clock hung over the sea of bewildered children, ticking away the morning. Gradually, Anna’s excitement began to dwindle, and the magic of the steel cathedral faded as they queued along the platform, waiting for something to happen. They stood, they sat on the ground.
But did I pick the winner? I doubt it. A couple of things bothered me. The book is told from so many perspectives, it is difficult to be emotionally attached to any character. Anna comes closest to being the central character, but then the book is not just about her. An omniscient POV works wonderfully in some books, but this just isn’t one of them. So many characters in this book are unhappy in their marriages and seek gratification elsewhere – it just gets repetitive. I would have like to see some variety in the way the different couples’ relationships play out.
Minor gripes aside, I did like this book. I may not bet my money on it, but it is a good read.
Oh, and a tiny trivia: Rosie Alison is really Mrs.Waterstones – yes, the Waterstones of the bookshop Waterstones. How cool is that!!