The Hidden by Mary Chamberlain

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The Hidden by Mary Chamberlain

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: Hauntingly atmospheric, historian and author Mary Chamberlain takes the reader to the dark days of the Channel Islands under German Occupation, and tells a hugely moving tale of love, survival, and betrayal.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: February 2019
Publisher: Point Blank
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1786076441

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When Barbara Hummel arrives, determined to identify the mysterious woman whose photograph she has found among her mother's possessions, Dora and Joe find their worlds upended – and are swiftly forced to confront their pasts. Revisiting their time on the Channel Islands during World War II, Dora remembers a time when she concealed her Jewish identity, and Joe, a Catholic Priest, remembers a time when he hid something very different. In this story of love, loss and betrayal, it remains to be seen whether a speck of light can diffuse the darkest shadows of war…

Well known as an academic historian, Mary Chamberlain has authored six non-fiction works and edited or co-edited a further five. Her first, 'Fenwomen', was the first book to be published by Virago Press, and was turned into a play by Caryl Churchill. Graduated from the MA Creative Writing course at Royal Holloway, Chamberlain has since embarked on a new career as a writer of historical fiction – with first novel The Dressmaker of Dachau being published in 18 countries, and now her latest work, The Hidden.

The Channel Islands were occupied by the German army for most of the Second World War, from 30th June 1940 to 9th May 1945. A relatively gentle occupation became increasingly more difficult as the war went on – with radios confiscated, deportations taking place, food, fuel and medicines becoming scarce and starvation taking a serious toll upon both the inhabitants and the occupying forces. It's not an area I knew a huge amount about – save for reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. It's a shame – as it's a truly fascinating time and place, and one brought vividly to life by skilled author and experienced historian Mary Chamberlain.

Revolving around a death, Chamberlain uses the distinct voices of Dora and Joe to tell a story that immediately transports the reader to the dark, turbulent and dangerous times of occupation. Using the open, light-filled landscapes of the Channel Islands, Chamberlain tells a tale that, in spite of the vintage visuals and period detail she utilises so well, is a hard-hitting and honest story that explores the devastation of war on a small community. The characters speak with clear, true voices that immediately pull the reader into the story, and Dora and Joe have hugely contrasting but equally fascinating stories for the reader to follow. Chamberlain is careful to allow the reader room to form their own thoughts and judgements as to the behaviour of the cast, and her careful writing ensures that she is not making any blanket statements about good or evil – her characters nuanced enough to allow for morals and feeling to be explored in far more variety. Crafting a plot with emotion and humanity to balance out the fascinating historical detail, this is an accomplished novel and one that will linger in the mind long after reading.

This is a fascinating exploration of war at a personal level – how it affects those involved and how it shapes and changes lives, landscapes, and communities. Many thanks to the publisher for the copy, and for further reading I recommend The New Mrs Clifton by Elizabeth Buchan – a similarly accomplished tale of how war affects everyday individuals, and how they shape their lives in the years after.

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