I was sent a copy of The Silent Hours by Cesca Major for review, as part of Brit Mums Book Club. When it arrived, I was still reading another book for review, so I just sort of added it to my review pile and carried on with my day. Once I picked it up to start reading though, it was hard to put down.
This book is the story of three main characters, and told mostly from their points of view in France during the Second World War. The first is a nine-year-old boy named Tristan who is moving with his parents, brothers and sister from Paris to a tiny village for no reason he can fathom. His part of the story is brilliantly told, really capturing the innocence of a child. At one point he asks his parents, “what’s a Juden?” Later on, upon realising there are people living in a run-down house in the forest, he surmises they must be spies, and hatches a plan to capture them using rope from a swing, thus ending the war and allowing his family to return to Paris.
The second character is a young man named Sebasiten, the son of a Jewish banker who falls in love with a young woman named Isabelle. This part of the story is beautifully told; he falls madly for this girl and plans to ask her to marry him, but at the same time is scared to tell his parents about her, as she is not Jewish.
The third main character is a woman named Adeline, living in a convent in south-west France in 1952. She is mute, despite numerous attempts from various nuns and doctors to help her to speak. She has clearly survived something traumatic and is suffering with flashbacks to her previous life.
Although this is a work of fiction it is based around something that really happened. As the story unfolds, and you realise how the three main characters fit together, you start to try and think of how there might be a happy ending – but the very existence of the woman in the convent, the way she can’t bear to remember something that has happened in her past, makes you think that can’t really be possible.
The last few chapters of this book are completely captivating. I could not put it down; I needed to know what happened, next, how it ended. I must applaud Major for not turning the ending into a sickly-sweet, unrealistic happy ending where everyone lives happily ever after.This is one of those books where, you just know if Hollywood got hold of it they would have to change the ending and in the process ruin the whole story.
I’m being delibverately vague because I think the story works best if you don’t go Googling about to see what real historical event it is based on – and if a reviewer hasn’t told you what it’s based on!
For me this book was very much like Elizabeth Is Missing – not so much because of the subject matter or anything like that, more because it drew me in completely, until I felt like I was living with these people and completely invested in the outcome of their story. You know, that rarest of things where you finish a book and look up, almost surprised to find yourself in the present day, sitting on your own sofa, the characters left behind in the pages of a book.
I was stunned to find this is Cesca Major’s debut novel. It’s so beatifully written and ingeniously put together, it felt more like the work of a seasoned pro. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes a good book, especially if you have an interest in history. Be warned, though: you will need tissues.
The Silent Hours is available in paperback from this Thursday, 4th June.
Thanks for reading.