Leaves Before the Storm
This beautifully written novel makes a change from the increasing number being published with an eye to the interest in both World Wars aroused by the centenary of WW1, as it begins at Easter 1939 and ends in Winter 1947, concluding satisfactorily in 1991 with a heart-breaking little coda. I loved this novel, and I’m someone who hates war books.
Arney has a light touch and writes without false sentimentality about the horrors of WW2 and the ways the lives of ordinary people were changed forever. The main character, Megan, is tough and resourceful but no one-dimensional heroine. She is as changed by the everyday dramas and tragedies that war brings as everyone else and is also believably devastated by love in its many different guises. It is a pleasure to find a novel written with respect for human failings but with a strong moral centre where the author does not flinch from pointing out evil and bad faith.
Megan draws many people into her life and allows them to flourish in their own way: the little refugee, for instance, or the land girls, prisoners of war and the wonderful characters running Folly House in the New Forest where most of the action is set. All are imagined with a sure touch, with humanity, with humour and with a vital place in the central story of Megan and the love of her life. Of course there is a villain, the monstrous and believable Gerald who, not to spoil the plot, gets his deserts in a satisfyingly spectacular way. Written with compassion and understanding, this is a book that should be on everybody’s shelf of war novels. It also has an evocative cover and is beautifully produced by Hale.