Traces of Dreams
This time-spun family saga is filled with life’s harsh realities. Alicia Martin falls for Arthur Bell, a soldier leaving London to fight in the Great War. Desperately in love, the couple yield to their passions with predictable results: an unwed pregnancy. Inevitably, Arthur is killed in the trenches, and Alicia must rear the boy herself. To raise her spirits her sociable sister, Fiona, brings home one Mathew Reede, whom Alicia resists furiously until he rescues her from near rape by a local scruff. Feeling protective, Mathew persuades her to move with son Arty to a home that’s not much better than the hovel she left. Mathew’s eventual marriage proposal is reluctantly accepted, but with Alicia’s strange proviso: no sex. Yet life takes Alicia by surprise when she actually enjoys Mathew’s simple goodnight kiss. Passions are stirred, her resistance is broken, and soon they have a child of their own, an event that repeats year after year until ten Reede children crowd their small house of poverty. There is enough love to go around, except the jealous, unforgiving Arty.
This novel spans decades and two world wars, portraying the gritty truth of deprivation in London’s poorer classes, yet the reader is amazed at their strength and courage. However insightful, there is little humor to balance the misery. The well-meaning story is so compressed it becomes difficult to keep track of the ensuing generations. The sudden switch in part two to daughter Sara’s story would have been better as a springboard to a sequel. Kudos for the effort if not the format.