The Darkest Hour by Barbara Erskine

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The Darkest Hour by Barbara Erskine

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Susmita Chatto
Reviewed by Susmita Chatto
Summary: An absorbing historical novel with well rounded characters.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 549 Date: March 2015
Publisher: Harper
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0007513154

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In the summer of 1940, at the start of the Battle of Britain, Evie Lucas has two things on her mind. She paints pictures of the war and she has fallen in love with Tony, a young pilot.

Seventy years later, Lucy, an art historian, begins a study into Evie’s life. Lucy is recently widowed and hopes to find solace in the engrossing project. Instead, she finds secrets that people have been working hard to protect for over half a century – and her discoveries have a profound impact on her own life.

Surprisingly, this is the first of Erksine’s novels that I have read. I’m fascinated by this period and the story of a war artist also drew me to it. The novel starts off in dramatic fashion and I immediately got a strong sense of 'saga spanning the ages' which I enjoy; there’s something innately comforting about it. Erskine describes her characters and settings in such a way that you can plunge in immediately and get to know each character very quickly.

As the story progressed, I found the gradual introduction of the sinister aspects of the novel also drew me in. Erskine has a talent for expressing the small things that mean so much in relationships and I enjoyed her depiction of the developing feelings between Evie and Tony. Although the style of writing did feel a bit too wordy in some parts, overall the detail was always necessary and helped illuminate the tale.

Historical novels are a favourite of mine and sometimes novels which skip between the past and present can feel a little lopsided to me as I am so much more interested in the past. This one balances out really well as we are led to occupy Lucy’s mind as she uncovers the past in a way that is interesting and unpredictable.

Something that didn’t sit well with me was the feeling that the main female characters were weaker than I would have liked. This was compensated by the strength of some of the others but there were moments when I felt a little frustrated with Lucy and Evie and they didn’t show as much moxie as I was expecting.

Although this is a sizeable novel, it flows well and is very absorbing. It evokes past and present extremely well and boasts a cast of well-rounded characters. The period is also beautifully described without being overwhelming; you don’t need to have a particular fascination with or knowledge of the Battle of Britain to enjoy this work. Overall, this is a well written an engaging novel which will appeal to many types of reader.

If you liked this book you might enjoy The English Girl by Margaret Leroy. You might also enjoy A Good War by Patrick Bishop.

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