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A Reader of Fictions: Help! - Howie Day

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Help! - Howie Day

The Very Thought of You

Author: Rosie Alison
Pages: 313
ARC Acquired from: Simon & Schuster Galley Grab

Brief Summary:
Anna Sands was one of innumerable London children evacuated to the British countryside during the war. She ended up living with a grand old Yorkshire family, the Ashtons, now reduced to Thomas and Elizabeth. The Ashton's marriage is in tatters, largely because of Elizabeth's inability to conceive a child. Watching their marriage falls apart has a lifelong impact on young Anna.

The experience of reading The Very Thought of You was, for me, quite uneven. Parts of it had a tender, calm beauty, while other seemed unnecessarily banal. Generally, I enjoyed the sections that detailed the lives of the evacuees. This is an aspect of the affect of WWII that I have rarely read about and it was a pleasure to be able to do so. WWII is the frame of the story, but is largely distant from the tale, which was interesting, too.

The language was at times quite beautiful, although not particularly lyrical. It had a simplicity to it that made it feel natural. I would like to share two quotes that I adored. The first is a comment made to Anna when she has stayed up too late reading: "A true lover of books knows no time" (191). Why I love this is likely obvious. The second is an old, sad, lonely man's reflection on his life: "So I may seem like an old wreck to you—but inside I'm still dancing, as they say" (292). This man has been through a lot, most of it awful and only some of that self-made, but he can still feel that overall his life has been a good one. That is some powerful stuff, and it does not come off as some forced message, but as a simple, beautiful truth.

There were two aspects of this novel I did not enjoy. The more minor of the two is something I see as a weakness in the storytelling: the viewpoint, which generally follows Anna or the Ashtons occasionally shifted to the Nortons, friends of the Ashtons. These sections always seemed to come out of nowhere and really did not seem important to the overall narrative. Having finished the book, they seem to have been included to allow more discussion of artists (perhaps Alison is a big fan of the art of that time period) and to allow her to add a scene about the Holocaust. The temptation to include the latter is understandable, but I did not appreciate her hurried attempt to fit it in; in my opinion, the book would have been better off had she remained within her main construct.

More frustrating was that this, like a surprising number of other books I have read, seems to be showing that all marriages result in unhappiness, affairs and, ultimately, divorce. While I imagine this is often true, I find it frustrating when every single main character ends up the same way. I would not call this a glorification of affairs, so much as a de-glorification of matrimony and a Chretien de Troyes-ish sense that true love lies outside of marriage. I'm not saying that every novel should depict wedded bliss, as that would be unrealistic, but not every could cheats (or so I choose to hope).

Regardless of my opinion, The Very Thought of You has received a really great reception, having been considered for the Orange Prize. The book is certainly well written and covers a fairly unique war experience, that of the children left behind and safe, physically anyway. It may not have been precisely my cup of tea, but, if it sounds good to you, please do not let me dissuade you.

"When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody's help in any way
And now these days are gone
I'm not so self assured
Now I find I've changed my mind
I've opened up the doors

Help me if you can, I'm feeling down
And I do appreciate you being 'round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won't you please, please help me"

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Blogger Gea Bridged said...

Thank you for this review! it seem so even and honest that you do not just express the thought of enjoying it but also you express and told the flaws of the book written. I like honest reviewers that of which giving the readers-to be a perfect view of the book. in this way we can see and weigh out which would be the better books that should be read. thank you much! i'll be reading other reviews in a bit.. bless you and keep it up!

July 26, 2012 at 10:29 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Awwww, thank you so much! That's always lovely to hear. My reviews keep getting longer as I blog more, because I'm really trying to present the good and the bad, assuming the book has both. :)

I appreciate it!

July 26, 2012 at 11:16 PM  

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