The Silent Tide

Written by Rachel Hore
Review by Sarah Johnson

Two career-driven women in London’s competitive publishing industry over sixty years apart feature in Rachel Hore’s comfortably overstuffed saga, which has light touches of romance and a haunting mystery linking the eras. In the dramatic prologue, Isabel awakens alone to a flooded house in East Suffolk of 1953 and, with no rescue source nearby, is soon swept away into the waters of the cold North Sea. The story of how this sad situation came about unfolds in the remaining pages.

Escaping an unhappy home life, 19-year-old Isabel Barber arrives in London in 1948 and lands a job as a clerk at a small publisher. She loves her work and her first big project, editing the debut novel of talented newcomer Hugh Morton. This draws her into close company with its much older author, whose charm she finds hard to resist.

Her modern counterpart is Emily Gordon, an up-and-coming editor at London-based Parchment Press. In the course of acquiring the first authorized biography of Morton, a distinguished literary figure, Emily becomes intrigued by the shadowy Isabel, whose name is found inscribed in one of Morton’s early books. Maybe it was Isabel, not his widow Jacqueline, who inspired the heroine in The Silent Tide, the bestselling epic that made him famous?

Ambitious women in similar occupations, Emily and Isabel don’t feel distinct enough in the early chapters. However, as Hugh and Isabel’s relationship develops, and mysterious packages containing Isabel’s writings begin turning up at Emily’s office, their personalities solidify, and their stories become hard to set aside. The novel is particularly affecting in its portrayal of the difficulties working women faced in the post-war era, and of the hidden secrets that can lie, seemingly dormant, within families and marriages. The last hundred pages had me on the edge of my seat and more than made up for the slowish start.