Adeline, a mute who takes refuge in a convent, haunted by memories of her past;
Sebastien, a young Jewish banker whose love for the beautiful Isabelle will change the course of his life dramatically;
Tristan, a nine-year-old boy, whose family moves from Paris to settle in a village that is seemingly untouched by war.
Beautifully wrought, utterly compelling and with a shocking true story at its core, The Silent Hours is an unforgettable portrayal of love and loss.
I still can't quite comprehend that this is the début novel from Cesca Major. The Silent Hours is mind blowingly good and deserves to win awards right across the board. No matter what I say in this review I can never do this book justice. But be warned have copious amounts of tissues nearby as you read. If I felt this emotional reading the book I can only imagine how the author felt writing such a powerful novel. We have had an influx of World War novels in recent months but this alongside Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey has to be the best by miles. I know come the end of the year these two books will be my picks of the year. I flew through this novel in two sittings. The chapters are short and snappy but oh so much is packed in. The writing is rich and fluid and oozes emotion. This a story where you cannot give much away at all but suffice to say I was left haunted and emotionally drained when I read the final line.
There is quite a bit of buzz surrounding the release of this book and I was intrigued could it possibly live up to such high expectations. I will readily admit for the first half of the book I was wondering where is this going and how will things begin to connect. But oh when things connect I was left a complete and utter wreck. I hadn't read the blurb and didn't realise it was based on a real story until I read the historical note at the end. Discovering this made me realise how all the more how powerful this story really was and it made for an even more gripping read. The story has multiple narrators whose stories eventually intertwine but the way they do will not make for easy reading.
Adeline is living in a convent in South West France. It is 1952 and she has been there for several years. Nobody knows where she came from or what her story is as she is mute and refuses to engage with anyone or certain aspects of convent life. She is in danger of being thrown out soon but where will she go if that happens? It's quite clear Adeline has been through a severe trauma and her story unfolds at a gentle pace throughout the novel as we are given an insight into some of her thoughts. Adeline is mysterious and deeply wounded and the reader is constantly questioning what could possibly have happened to her to leave her in this awful silent world? Isabelle is a young woman growing up in a small French village. Her story is told through letters to her brother Paul. Paul had been fighting in the war but has been captured and imprisoned by the Germans. Normally I get bored of reading letters between people throughout an entire novel. But this device worked beautifully here as I felt the two characters were able to write their deepest feelings in the letters where sometimes face to face with people you may be reluctant to do this. It brought a whole new level of understanding to the novel.
Sebastian is a young Jewish man working in his father's banking firm which is just on the cusp of expansion but the outbreak of war throws his family's life into chaos. He meets Isabelle and loves young dream ensues. Their relationship was a delight to read, such innocence and purity and such respect and devotion to each other. Little did they realise in the world they inhabit not everything will go to plan. Finally we have Tristan a young boy fleeing Paris with his family. He was the most innocent of all, he knows times are changing but he is kept as sheltered as possible from the realities of what is happening on the world wide stage and at his own front door. When his family travel to a small French village his life is forever altered. He tells us of 'German spies' hiding in a house in the forest and how he will expose them to the village. If only he knew who the German spies really were. For the majority of the novel I felt Tristan had no part to play that the author was just using him as another character to show how the younger generation also had to deal with the horrors of war. But I was deeply satisfied with his outcome.
I cannot say any more for do to do so would ruin a sublime book. All the comments and rave reviews surrounding this book are totally justified. It is brilliantly written not morose or hard work (which the subject matter might implie) but it is devastatingly memorable. You will lose yourself in the story of these characters, rooting for them, hoping and wishing they will have the outcome they deserve. You become so engrossed in what is happening that you really want to reach the end but to do so you leave behind a cast of characters who forever hold a place in your heart.
The Silent Hours is an extraordinary achievement and other books in this genre will be hard pushed to live up to such outstanding writing. So many connections become apparent towards the end and I was glad. Too often authors leave their readers dangling and that is frustrating. Thankfully not here. This a ground breaking, cleverly written, outstandingly heartbreaking piece of work. In years to come I can imagine this book being studied in schools for it is that good and deserves to be read by a wide audience. Cesca Major you are a huge talent and an inspiration for many. Thank you for writing this book and pouring your heart and soul into it. A stunning achievement that cannot be compared to anything else out there.
I'd like to thank Emma for this amazing review and Alison Davies at Corvus for sending Emma a copy of the eBook to review.