The Separation by Dinah Jefferies

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The Separation by Dinah Jefferies

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Louise Jones
Reviewed by Louise Jones
Summary: A young woman frantically searches Malaya for her husband and young daughters during the 'Emergency'.
Buy? No Borrow? No
Pages: 400 Date: May 2014
Publisher: Penguin
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780241966051

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Lydia Cartwright has returned home from a short trip and can’t wait to be reunited with her adorable young daughters. She has missed them terribly. When she walks through the door, however, she senses that something is very wrong. Her husband and daughters are gone, along with most of their clothes and possessions. She searches the house for a message, some clue as to where they may be, but finds nothing. The bank account has been left almost empty, leaving Lydia puzzled and confused. Where are her husband and children? After making enquiries, Lydia is told that her family have relocated to Ipoh, where her husband Alec has a new job. Filled with hope, Lydia undertakes a risky journey through the Malayan Jungle at a time of political unrest known simply as the ‘Emergency’ with the love of her children as her driving force.

‘The Separation’ has an interesting dual-narrative. The first story is that of Lydia, the mother searching for her children and is told in the third person. The second voice is that of Emma, Lydia’s feisty teenage daughter, who never gives up hope that she may see her beloved mother again, despite having been told that she is missing and presumed dead. The author cleverly alternates the two stories, which creates a refreshing contrast as we are transported from the hot, sultry jungles of Malaya to a grey, cold, unwelcoming boarding school in Britain and back again.

Despite an intriguing premise, the book had major flaws, mostly as a result of poor editing. The pace was slow and the narrative excessively wordy in places, which made the plot drag. The author had an annoying habit of repeating the same phrases over and over again in every chapter. I lost count of the times where a character ‘stood, hands on hips’, ‘wiped the moisture from her hairline’ or wore ‘frosty pink nail lacquer’, but the constant repetition made me lose focus of the actual story. Perhaps even the proofreader lost interest, which may explain why ‘Cicely’ became ‘Cecily’ in one of the chapters.

Despite these irritations, the book also has a lot to redeeming features. Emma is a delightful character and the parts of the story written from her teenage perspective are a pleasure to read. The descriptions of life in Malaya, drawn from the author’s own experiences, are powerfully evocative and transport the reader to another time and place. The author had clearly done her research, which added credibility to the storyline.The ending was beautifully written and made me feel glad that I had not given up on the story, despite my misgivings.

For more from Malaysia we can recommend Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan.

Buy The Separation by Dinah Jefferies at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Separation by Dinah Jefferies at

Buy The Separation by Dinah Jefferies at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Separation by Dinah Jefferies at


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