I was sent a review copy of this debut novel and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I won't give away any essential plot details, but it revolves around a young girl who is sent away from London during WWII as an evacuee, and comes to live in a large house in the country.
Around this fairly simple story line, Alison deftly weaves a number of sub-plots, each one of them asking questions about the nature of love and providing rather different answers in each case. The characters involved are strongly drawn, sympathetically portrayed and most are highly likeable, so one realises at once that this is far from a typical modern novel.
There is an obvious reference to The Go-Between, since the central character witnesses, as a girl, some adult reactions, emotions and behaviour that should clearly lie beyond the power of her own childhood experience to interpret, but this is a very different book. Hartley sets The Go-Between in such a way that most of what we observe we see through Leo, reminiscing as an old man about his experiences as a boy. Alison offers us a number of different perspectives, most movingly perhaps that of Thomas, who is confined to a wheelchair.
There is also a very strong sense of both period and place. It did not surprise me to discover that Alison was in fact describing a real place and, partly at least, drawing on real historical events by way of background.
This is an impressive book, particularly as a debut novel. It is a book that will stay with you long after you have read it, and I would recommend it. Once again, though, I have some doubts about the packaging and presentation. There is a very twee cover featuring a young girl which conjures up visions of "Women's Own", and the blurb is largely about the young central character. I fancy most men would run a mile from this book if they were to pick it up in a bookshop. When will publishers realise that a good book will sell on its own merits and does not have to be neatly pigeon-holed as "Chick Lit" or "Bloke Lit" or "A woman's book" in order to move off the shelves?