Theo, Phyllis and Jessica Melville and Oskar Grunewald spend holidays together at the Melville Estate, a house done up to look like a castle. When Theo dies in the war the whole families are thrown into mourning and their own particular ways of trying to move on in life.
This book was strange. At it’s best moments it reminded me of I Capture the Castle, but only really because of the big house. Really each character alienated me, I didn’t enjoy the unfolding of the various story lines and though I did keep reading I wasn’t sure that I wanted too. I didn’t feel invested enough to endure the drama of the different characters. But I’m wondering whether actually it was a fairly accurate depiction of a dysfunctional family torn apart by grief.
Clara Vine is a half English, half German film actress, making films in Germany during the rise of Hitler, under the scrutiny and suspicion of Goebbels, who thinks she is spying for England. Which she is. And her latest assignment given to her by undercover agent Guy Hamilton is to befriend and extract secrets from Eva Braun, Hitler’s girlfriend, that they hope will open up intelligence on his state of mind. But things move faster than anyone was anticipating, and Clara finds herself in the middle of more and more dangerous situations.
I was drawn into this novel to the start, and read it very quickly. We see not only Clara’s perspective but that of a few other characters, whose stories end up weaving into this too. The setting is tense, and Clara is a pleasing and easy to like character. The plot ends up pleasing, but is rather strange in how it comes about.
Gretchen’s father sacrificed himself to save Hitler, and so her family has lived in his favour ever since. But when a stranger questions her father’s death everything Gretchen believes is turned upside down and she is determined to find the truth. Helped by the strangely kind Jew Daniel her quest, hindered by her distant and strange brother and her changing relationship with Hitler and the powerful National Socialist party, leads her to bold and subversive ideas that change her life forever.
Will we ever tire of stories of the wars and of Hitler? I don’t know – but I certainly haven’t. Set in Munich as Hitler’s power rises, Gretchen’s position as an honorary-niece gives a unique perspective of his personality and the tensions of Germany in the period. But really it is Gretchen and her story that is the focus; and this is fascinating in itself. Add in the ever-popular topic of the beginnings of psychoanalysis and you’ve got a winner!