Published by Zaffre, Oct 2016, 377 pages, £3.99
”A heart-breaking tale of love and loss”- heart-breaking indeed.
Elderly Rose Pepper finds a few unopened letters by her long lost love hidden between the floorboards. She is forced to relive her past and confront the secrets she has kept from her two adult daughters. What we know from the start is that she had lived in Prague straight after the war but had to leave her beloved Krystof behind once communist forces began to take control. We also know that her two daughters have different fathers. Her youngest belongs to Krystof, but her eldest is from Will, a man they all agree to hate. If this is not the great secret then what is? And whatever happened to Krystof?
The rest of the book tells the story from the start, we meet a young Rose heading off to work as a land girl in Cornwall. She is engaged to Will, an older man who her parents adore. He is controlling, tempestuous and she struggles to break off the engagement. The only thing giving her hope is the chance to move away from them all and immerse herself into the countryside. The work is harsh and the people she lives with are also rough but good-natured deep down. Rose is someone you can feel slowly growing in strength and confidence. However, I did find her inability to leave Will, not just in their relationship but as a figure who dominates her life, very frustrating. This insecurity carries on throughout the rest of the novel with great consequences.
Will was a piece of work. I do admire authors who can create characters you loathe as much as ones you love. I cannot imagine any reader not hating him with a passion. So when Krystof arrives, he was like a ray of soft sunlight. Gentlemanly, sensitive and witty, Rose falls deeply for him. But dark shadows were constantly threatening their short-lived passion. The plot becomes more gripping and there was a nervous point where I thought everything was going to crumble. As the story moves to Prague, we get a temporary spell of happiness as the couple reunites, but punctuated by increasingly dark events from the communist army. As we knew from the start, Rose had to leave and then we return to her elderly self. When she finally opens the letters it was more of a confirmation than a revelation. I felt overwhelmingly sad and wished for something a little more uplifting. If you want a tear-jerker this is the one.
For more on Catherine Law check out her tips on beating writer’s block!
Many thanks to Zaffre for my review copy