From the dust jacket:
“This story of Katherine Lind and Robin Fennel, of winter and summer, of war and peace, of exile and holidays.”
Usually when I pick a book to read, I have read reviews or it has been recommended and I have an idea what it will be about. This one was a blank slate from a reading point of view – I knew nothing about it at all but was encouraged by the blurb above.
It opens with a short chapter describing the cold, bleak snowy conditions of winter and in this way sets the mood for the rest of the story.
Set in and just outside of London during WWII, the story is told in three parts, the first and third take place at the beginning and end of a single day with the middle section being a flashback.
Katherine Lind is in her 20’s and works in a library. She has no real friends and has a very irritating supervisor whose main occupation seems to be to find fault with her work and remind them both of his superiority. We learn that Katherine is foreign but not where she is from and also that she has been to England once before.
After the opening wintry description, the scene shifts to the library on a Saturday morning. Katherine is assigned the task of taking a colleague who has terrible toothache home. The disgruntled and uncoperative colleague ends up resting at Katherine’s flat – through their interaction, we learn that Katherine lives alone in this small flat and that she is expecting a letter from Robin Fennel who she met on her previous visit to England. She is anxious about the letter, whether she will receive it at all and whether Robin will want to see her again when he learns she is back in the country.
Part two is a flashback to the summer of this previous visit – when Katherine stayed with the Fennnel’s as part of a student foreign exchange programme.
Part three reverts back to the afternoon and evening of the present.
I read this book a few weeks ago and seem to have been stalling on writing my thoughts on it – but here goes…
I liked the way the story was constructed with the three parts – this was well done and after reading the first part, I still had no idea really of what I was reading about – was it going to be a thriller or perhaps a love story? Whatever it was, I was very keen to keep reading and find out.
Unfortunately it didn’t really end up being about much, plot wise, and there were potentially interesting characters introduced who sort of petered out before they got going. Katherine being foreign is brought up regularly but we are not told for sure where she is from. I found that a bit odd and was imagining all sorts of possible reasons for this, none of which eventuated.
My overall feeling from the book is one of bleakness, as the title and opening suggest. I think the message is that life is lonely and any hopes and excitement we have about other people fade away once familiarity sets in – life is basically ordinary and people disappointing.
Interestingly, this book is classified under “state of the nation” in the Guardian 1000 novels to read before you die” list. If the author was illustrating this sense of lonlieness and isolation as a wartime consequence of being away from home and family, he would have done an excellent job but I’m not convinced he was. I think he was making a general observation about how life can be regardless of any external circumstances – which I found a little depressing…