Cornwall 1920. Daniel Branwell has survived the Great War as an infantryman; with his mother, his only relation, having died whilst he was serving in France, he lives upon a smallholding on the north coast of Cornwall that belonged to an elderly recluse, Mary Pascoe. She dies, and Dan assumes possession of the small plot of land to survive on a subsistence basis. Although Daniel was fortunate to escape serious wounding on the battlefields, it is soon apparent that he is suffering some mental trauma; his closest friend Frederick Dennis was killed whilst attacking German trenches, and Daniel blames himself for surviving while allowing his friend, whom he cared for with an unexpressed homosexual intensity, to die. Frederick came from a wealthy family, and the narrative follows the course of Daniel’s memories, as he recalls happy days with his friend as boys, alternating with the harrowing events in the War. Frederick’s younger sister Felicia is a young widow with a baby, now living alone in the large house of the Dennis family. They restart a tentative friendship, based upon their shared grief for Frederick. Although not formally educated, Daniel is a bookish young man and avidly read volumes from the large library in Frederick’s house – the books and poems stay inside him.
This is a lovely novel, beautifully observed and moving. The reader empathises with the damaged Daniel, and his nostalgic memories of happier times before the War turned his world upside down are almost painful in their intensity. Helen Dunmore handles the scenes of Daniel’s disturbances deftly and credibly. A story to treasure.
300 (UK), 304 (US)