Alma Braithwaite’s boarding school was bombed in 1942, and she and some classmates were sent to the university under the care of Robert Gunner, a crippled maths lecturer. They meet again years later when Alma is a teacher at her old school, and memories of the past are stirred – and disturbed by the new headmistress who is changing the way things always have been.
This book was better than I expected. The cover and storyline made it look pretty dull, but it was actually charming, characters well realised and plot interesting enough. The dual time storyline worked well, with the parallels exposing secrets from both times that affect the other.
I thought the characters at their different phases of life, and experience of trauma, love and loss were well painted. Alma and her friends were convincing and likeable teenagers, and the adult Alma stilted by the events of her past. Robert Gunner’s introspection and isolation was interesting, though I found Miss Yates, the headmistress, hard to understand. She felt like a construct rather than a real person.
The dual storyline worked well here, our understanding of the present increasing as we explore more of the past. But though it did progress the storyline, it resisted coming to any neat endings. Though perhaps the reader would wish for some happy endings what is actually achieved is perhaps more poignant and realistic.
It seemed like a strange mix of an english boarding school book with a wartime story, but worked well enough. I’m not super-enthusiastic about this book, but would probably lend it to someone.