The Very Thought of You

Written by Rosie Alison
Review by Trudi E. Jacobson

This engaging novel was shortlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction, and it is not difficult to understand why. The author writes with a grace and assurance not often found in first novels, and the missteps are few and minor. At the heart of the novel is Anna Sands, 8 years old when we first meet her, in 1939, at the start of World War II. While her father is serving in the army, her mother makes the difficult decision to send Anna out of London to safety from German bombers. Anna is sent to Ashton Park, an estate in Yorkshire. She ends up spending most of the war there, though her experiences from this time will shape the direction of the rest of her life. She blossoms under the teaching of caring instructors, particularly Mr. Ashton, the owner of the estate and a former diplomat. At first things seem idyllic in Anna’s new setting, but she slowly becomes aware of disturbing or confusing undercurrents between some of the key adult characters.

The perspective on events is usually Anna’s, but we also have the opportunity to experience things from the viewpoints of Anna’s mother, Mr. and Mrs. Ashton, and Miss Weir, another caring teacher, amongst others. These shifts are seamless and welcome. What I found disjointed were transitions to and from sections that focus on Sir Clifford Norton, another diplomat still serving in a Europe made tense by German aggression, and his wife, nicknamed Peter, who promotes the arts and is heavily involved in humanitarian efforts. While they provide a broader picture of the times, the connection seems a bit forced. This, however, is a minor quibble, and I recommend this book highly. I look forward to Rosie Alison’s next novel.