The Return

Written by Anita Frank
Review by Jasmina Svenne

May 1945: for everyone else, the end of the War in Europe is a cause for celebration. But for farmer Gwen Ellison, it’s a time of uncertainty. Her husband Jack promised not to return, for both their sakes. But now that her peaceful existence with her son Tom is threatened, maybe Jack is the ally she needs. June 1939: on the run from his past, Jack Ellison stumbles upon the Hughes’ farm. He is instantly mesmerised by the beautiful and capable Gwen and stays on as a temporary labourer, even though it might be safer for him to keep running. But Gwen has secrets of her own.

I enjoyed Frank’s gothic first novel The Lost Ones, but her second book is even better. In many ways, it’s a more modern take on Far from the Madding Crowd, the story of a spirited young woman and her entanglements with three very different men—the loyal labourer, the dashing cad and the older neighbouring farmer—with the same potential for tragedy as in Hardy’s novel.

The characters are all brought vividly to life, and while the author never sugar-coats how difficult rural life can be, especially for a single mother with only a Land Girl and an older local woman to help her, she also celebrates the beauty of the Berkshire countryside, which weaves a magical spell over Newcastle-born Jack. If I have to nit-pick, the only fault I could find with this book was the repeated use of “disinterested” (impartial) when the author clearly means “indifferent”.

This is the sort of book where being able to predict plot twists only makes the story more compelling, because you hope against hope that you’re wrong. I can’t wait for Frank’s next book.