Only six months married before James was summoned to fight for his country, Rose is bored by her husband’s letters, barely able to bring herself to open them, let alone reply. Alone in a tiny cottage on the tip of the Ashdown Forest not far from where she grew up, she spends her time roaming with her dog and patrolling as an ARP warden to safeguard the blackout. She’s wondered about her loneliness for some time: at first she thought it was missing James but now it seems an existential condition. And she’s found a way to soothe it in her secret meetings with Toby, on sick leave from the war.
Then James’s elder sister, Enid, is bombed out of her London flat and, with nowhere else to go, she foists herself upon Rose. With her own guilty secret, Enid isn’t the best of houseguests, while Rose is far from the perfect host. The women have more in common than they think, but their different loyalties to James prevents them becoming friends.
It’s so hard to get life right, she thinks, pulling the blanket tight around her shoulders. All the small balances are impossible to strike most of the time. And then there are the larger choices. It’s hopeless. She might as well be one of those gannets, tossed about by the gusts of wind the drive up from the Atlantic.
When given a glimpse of how the camp commandant has fared in the aftermath, I was also reminded of The Narrow Road to the Deep North. But The Evening Chorus differs from both in depicting love and loss in the Second World War in the context of the natural world, and it’s from there that the characters – and readers – can take some hope. A character here is speaking about the marsh gentian, but she might as well be voicing the message of the novel itself (p243):
it is rare and one would be lucky to find it, but the rarity makes it more desirable … even though you might not find it if you look, you should look all the same – because if you do find it, there is nothing more beautiful
Thanks to Serpent’s Tail for my advance proof copy. Another one for your TBR lists!
When Charli posted her latest flash fiction challenge to write a 99-word story on the theme of Spring, I thought this review would make the ideal partner. But that was two days ago, before my compatriots (not you, obviously) re-elected a government that cossets the wealthy and punishes the vulnerable (on the seventieth anniversary of VE Day, of all things). I commented on Charli’s post that I prefer the downbeat prompts, but I’d intended to write something against type. There’s lots to appreciate at this time of year: like James, I enjoy watching the birds (pairs of bullfinches, greenfinches, goldfinches, great tits and dunnocks making regular visits to the garden feeders); like his sister, Enid, I love wildflowers, though I lack the patience they had to make a detailed study.
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But I’m too stricken by grief to put it into fiction. Instead, I can offer this longer short story that fits the theme: The Beach Where He Found It with apologies to those who’ve seen it before and this tongue-in-cheek reminder from The Producers that what feels like a new start to some is the death knell for others.
Thanks for your understanding.