Daughter of Catalonia
The publicity blurb for this book likens it to a Victoria Hislop novel, and the comparison is just, if what is meant is that it is a gentle holiday read designed to invoke nostalgic ‘past times’ and tug on the heartstrings. It lacks, however, Hislop’s ability to spot a truly unusual story; either that or I’ve read too many ‘descendant of wartime lovers travels back to homeland to discover her roots’ novels in recent years. In MacKenzie’s book, the descendant in question is Madeleine, whose mother Elise came to England in the later years of WWII. A refugee from the border between France and Spain, she takes her two small children back to her upper middle-class English family, from whom she had been estranged after eloping with an ardent young Catalan. Elise, a faint cipher of a character, wilts away after her husband’s death in mysterious circumstances in the last weeks of the war.
Elise’s death in the late 1950s, combined with a stultifying life with her reserved grandparents, are Madeleine’s spurs to find out more about her passionate family across the Channel. Predictably, she discovers kindly, elegant Parisian relatives before going on to uncover wartime betrayal in the village where her parents lived and worked as resistance fighters. Equally unsurprisingly, her arrival precipitates a crisis among the inhabitants of the village, as she uncovers long-buried secrets, and then proceeds to fall in love herself: but will the secrets of the past keep her from happiness?
There is little here which is original, although the descriptions of the sun-drenched south are pleasant enough, if a little clichéd. That about sums this novel up: it is pleasant, but unremarkable.