It was surprising to me that this book was shortlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize for fiction, with all the wonderful writing out there! I found this book to be okay, but I really wasn’t very impressed by it.
Anna Sands, age 8, is evacuated from London in 1939 (as other children were) prior to the threatened German bombing during World War II. Her mother, by herself while her husband is fighting the war, is lonely at first, but quickly adjusts to being a young vibrant woman “relishing her late bloom of sensuality.” This self-relishing business happens to a couple of the women in this book.
Anna’s destination, along with 85 other children, is Ashton Park, a large estate owned by Thomas and Elizabeth Ashton, a wealthy couple in their thirties. Thomas, warm-hearted and generous, is in a wheelchair from polio, and his ten-year marriage to the cold and emotionally volatile (but relishing her late bloom) Elizabeth has become a pretense. They both come to resent each other, and Elizabeth soon descends into debauchery and drunkenness. Thomas wonders if he can ever find solace from any aspect of his life. The solution he embraces has far-reaching repercussions.
Anna, spending four years at Ashton Park, is one of those who is deeply affected by the actions of the Ashtons, as well as by the separation from her parents. As we follow her through the years, we find out just how deeply and irreversibly her life was changed by that interlude.
Discussion: Other characters come and go somewhat disjointedly, in an inadvertent plotful complement to the choppy prose. Long passages read like this one:
“She began to worry. She watched and watched out of the window, hoping for a glimpse of the sea on every horizon. They seemed to roll through empty countryside for too long. Clutching her food bag and book, she fell asleep. Her legs did not touch the floor but swung from side to side with the train’s motion. In the late afternoon, the train slowed and she woke up. They were pulling into a station on a great bend.”
And on and on…
Evaluation: Lots of broken characters and tragedy portrayed in mostly plodding prose. It’s a haunting story but could have been way better. For those thinking that this is a story about the war, well, it’s actually not. In a sentence, it can be summarized: marriage sucks, life sucks, and then you die.
Paperback published by Washington Square Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2011
Phooey! I had such high hopes for this one thinking it would be about the war. Guess it’s going to be deleted from the “wish” list. Thanks for your honest evaluation.
I love your summary – pretty spot on IMHO 😉
Prize lists often leave me mystified. Think I’ll skip this one, the tbr list is just too long…
I loooovvveee that short summary. I’ve read many a book like that, and they quite rarely work for me.
That excerpt that you posted was hard to read and had an odd style. If there was a lot more of that going on in the book, I would have a really hard time with it. It sounds like this one was not as dramatically interesting as it was made out to be, and not something I will be seeking out. Loved your review though. Your candor and honesty is always appreciated and done with style.
Well, darn it, I had high hopes for this book. I really thought it was going to be a war story, but it sounds like it’s a downer.
Wow, that is choppy. All of those short sentences. Would slowly drive me crazy.
Too much relishing going on, methinks. Loved your review, will not read the book. Thanks, Jill.
I read this one a while back, and liked it but didn’t love it. There’s too much telling and not enough showing, and much as I dislike that distinction (some great works of literature tell rather than show and get away with it) it really was the kiss of death to this particular book!
Oh no, lol! I had to laugh at the last part of your review. Well, that’s sort of disappointing. It’s always good to add a little bit of hope into books on these kinds of topics.
Blah. We all know that, don’t need our noses rubbed in it. I’ve never quite understood the prizes and the rationale of nomination. If they needed war, there are about three dozen other books out there that do a better job.
can I be tossed from the Blogshere for saying I do not often see the great merit in many of these major prize books? If so, so be it…because I do not.
I have a copy of this and will get around to it one day, but I seem to remember that the general consensus among bloggers I follow who read through the whole Orange list that year was that this book was inferior to most of the others.
Wow…what a summary!
I always wonder about these award lists. I nearly always want to read the books that make them, but they are never really that good.
I guess I won’t be reading this one, thought the outline of the plot you gave sounds as if it could be a good book. Too bad about the choppy prose. It gets to you after a while if it’s kept up for too long.
Your summary made me sad 😦
I have a copy of this one and asked for it especially because it was shortlisted for the Orange Prize.
Not interested at all. In this book. Like the cover though.
Haha “marriage sucks. life sucks. then you die.” Sounds like something I might want to avoid. I was quite intrigued by the cover, but when I saw that it had to do with WWII London, my interest faded (even though you mention that it isn’t really about the war). Glad I read your review; I think I’ll just go ahead and skip this one.
Too bad this one didn’t live up to your expectations. I have a copy of this book I hope to read soon, but now my expectations aren’t as high as they were. Ah, well. I’ve linked to your review on War Through the Generations.