From the blurb:
A secret love that will haunt a family for ever
England 1918. Lady Helen believes her parents when they say she will never find a better husband than Richard, but when he returns to the Front, she begins to wonder just who it is she has married. His letters home are cold and distant – and Helen realises that she has made a terrible mistake. Then Oliver Donovan enters her life and they begin an affair that leaves Helen pregnant and alone – she is forced to surrender her precious baby.
Over twenty years pass and a second war is ravaging Europe, but that is not the only echo of the past to haunt the present. Laura Drummond is caught in a tragic love affair of her own and when she is forced to leave London during the Blitz, she turns to the mother she never knew.
This book spans the two world wars, and tells a story of love and loss, of the ties of family, of the sheer desperation of ordinary people caught up in war and of the good old British stiff-upper-lip mentality.
People were going about their business, picking their way over broken glass, brick rubble and fireman’s hoses to get to their work, going into shops which more often than not had their windows boarded up, pushing prams, riding bicycles, stopping now and again to tell each other what they knew.
This period of history is fascinating to me because of the way people held on tight to everything and everyone they loved, in spite of the awful things that were happening around them. Whilst mainly based in rural Norfolk and London, the book takes you through the London bombings, farmers working with Land Girls while their sons fought the war, RAF pilots fighting the Luftwaffe and bombing Germany, naval officers at sea, and wartime patients and nurses in military hospitals. It ties these all together with a powerful sense of the importance of family and what it meant to be a parent, especially a mother, during these wars – whilst dealing with the astonishing lies and secrets that often bind families together. It includes some heartbreakingly wonderful love stories of the time:
He had returned to France after a two-day honeymoon and all they were left with were letters. How could you make love by correspondence? She had accepted that, looked forward to each rather impersonal missive and the time when they would be together again.
‘When the war ends, however long it takes, I shall bring you back here and ask you that question again.’
‘You’ll wait that long?’ she queried.
‘For ever if I have to…’
The book centres on the stories of three amazingly strong women – Helen, Anne and Laura. One forced to give up her baby – the result of a wartime love affair – to save the face of her parents; one bringing up her child alone after her husband died; the other who, caught up in a whirlwind of tragedy and mystery (secrets which unite the three women), suddenly finds herself pregnant and alone. But I also enjoyed reading about Steve, a lovable, kind and brave RAF pilot, who was probably my favourite character in the book. Steve is almost completely oblivious to the emotional rollercoaster each of these women was travelling until nearly the end of the book, but I love his description of his flights and admire his bravery on his journey through the war.
This story is written through the eyes of many different characters, each describing their own reality of the wars, their love and their family. It transports you to this time of uncertainty, and to generation of people with somewhat different values and beliefs from modern-day Britain. It is well researched, and is unashamedly emotional, passionate, and proud. A lovely, heart-warming read with a satisfyingly happy ending – but for those sensitive types among us, a box of tissues is a must!
The Summer House is available now from Amazon; click on the book cover below to visit the store.