The Metal Heart: A Novel of Love and Valor in World War II

Written by Caroline Lea
Review by Jasmina Svenne

When war unexpectedly makes itself felt in Orkney in 1941, the authorities decide to send a group of Italian POWs to build barriers to protect the islands. Among them is Cesare, an artist caught up in the machinery of war against his will. The arrival of the foreigners on Selkie Holm causes shockwaves among the locals, particularly twins Dot and Con, who have sought the isolation of the smaller island to help Con come to terms with a traumatic incident in her recent past. Dot wants nothing more than to protect her sister – but from the moment she and Cesare meet, she is irresistibly drawn to him. However as external threats gather round them, Dot is forced to make the heart-breaking choice between two different types of love.

Caroline Lea’s evocative second novel about the fragility of love blossoming between two people who have only met because of exceptional circumstances is inspired by the story of the building of the Italian chapel on Lamb Holm. The central characters are all well drawn, and she has even managed to create an antagonist who, as well as being menacing, has a measure of pathos about him because he is genuinely incapable of understanding what he is doing wrong in his quest for love.

As a native of Jersey, Lea clearly understands the effects on individuals of living in a closed community, whose way of life is at the mercy of tides and weather. The rugged landscape is evoked in poetic language, and the use of local myths leaves the impression that this is a place where anything might be possible. I haven’t read her first novel, The Glass Woman, but I had heard good things about it, even before reading this book. I will be definitely seeking it out now.