The Silent Hours by Cesca Major
|The Silent Hours by Cesca Major|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Louise Jones|
|Summary: An absorbing tale of life and loss in a French village in World War II|
|Buy? yes||Borrow? yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: June 2015|
|External links: Author's website|
Adeline is an enigma. She has lived in a nunnery ever since her rescue, several years ago. She cannot speak, nor can she remember much about her previous life. She tries desperately to piece together the ephemeral fragments that come to her in fitful dreams. Something has taken everything away. Something so powerful that it has rendered her speechless.
The Silent Hours is a fictional re-imagining of a real-life tragedy that occurred in an unoccupied French village in World War II. The story is written in multiple narrative, so we see events through the eyes of Adeline, her children Isabelle and Paul, a young Jew called Sebastian and a cosseted little boy called Tristin, whose parents try to shield him from the horrors of war. Through these differing voices, we are drip-fed bits of information that build to form a complete picture.
One of the strengths of this book is that the author really makes us care about the characters. By giving us insight into their deepest thoughts and feelings, we begin to empathise with their struggles. We smile when they feel joy and we mourn for their loss. Each character is multi-faceted and the devil is in the detail. The optimistic Isabelle is a ray of sunshine at the very heart of the story. Her romance with Sebastian is believable and sincere. The initial awkwardness between them was sweet; they didn't really know how to act around one another, but a fizzing attraction impelled them to keep meeting 'by accident' in the village as their relationship grew into something stronger. I also enjoyed Tristin's story, as it was told from the innocent perspective of a child. He couldn't understand why everyone hated the 'Juden', or why there were 'spies' living in the woods. One scene, where his family enjoy a picture-perfect Christmas, starkly illustrates the way that he is sheltered from the evils of the world around him.
The book is incredibly moving and the characters will haunt the reader long after the final page. The story is made even more poignant after reading the historical notes at the end, which outline the events which were the inspiration for this work.
The author cleverly conveys horror without being graphic or gory. She uses the power of words to stir up real emotion in the reader. Much of the effect is down to the unsaid; the part where the reader has to fill in the blanks with their own imagination. It is a powerful thing. The descriptions of places and people are almost poetic in their beauty. Cesca Major clearly has a way with words.
The Silent Hours is quite simply, faultless. It has wonderful characters, settings and plot and the tantalising slow reveal of the big picture kept me hooked throughout and hungry for more. This book should be made compulsory reading for schools, lest we forget the horrors of man's inhumanity to man. Many, many thanks to the publishers for my advance copy.
The Flower Book by Catherine Law is another poignant war story that fans of this book may enjoy.
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