July 11, 2011

In war, finding refuge

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Originally published in the U.K. in 2009 to little fanfare, The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison went on to be shortlisted for the prestigious Orange Prize, drawing much-deserved attention to this haunting coming-of-age story.

Alison takes readers to London in 1939, with Hitler’s troops poised on the brink of invading Poland. In anticipation of an attack, thousands of British parents are sending their children out of the city, to safety in the countryside. Anna Sands, a precocious eight-year-old with a flair for poetry, is one of these children. She arrives on an estate run by childless couple Thomas and Elizabeth Ashton.The story unfolds from the points of view of four characters: Thomas and Elizabeth, whose lives have been marked by their inability to have children and Thomas’ crippling bout with polio; Anna, whose life is changed by her arrival there; and Roberta, Anna’s mother, who embraces her newfound independence in London. 

Alison tactfully tackles the notion of loneliness—be it in a foreign setting or a familiar home—along with expertly describing complicated relationships that are fraught with passion. Whether it’s Anna discovering an affair not to be witnessed, or Anna’s mother relying on the comfort of another man, these tangibly real characters are ones that inspire both pity and awe. The Very Thought of You is not just a story of love but a story of loss, one whose voice will touch even the coldest of hearts.

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