I’ve made a conscious decision to not jump into too many blog tours this year. I’ll be really doing my research when it comes to the books I’m offered. So when I was asked to be part of the blog tour for this book I had a look into it and thought that the premise sounded fascinating. Luckily I was correct.
Against the backdrop of a London emerging from the Second World War, Sylvie gives birth to twins, two boys Who she names Harry and Arthur.
Arthur sadly does not survive and is promptly whisked away before Sylvie even gets the chance to hold him in her arms.
Given that many millions of mothers have lost their sons to the ravages and brutality of war, Sylvie is made to feel that she should be grateful for the one remaining son she has and her grief for Arthur is almost swept under the carpet by those around her.
Sylvie struggles with her feelings with little support from her husband Gerald, a man whom she got little chance to fully connect with before he had to go away to fight for his country, but is now most certainly a man changed by the horrors of war, a man she no longer recognises.
When Harry is two years old, Sylvie and Gerald adopt a Jewish orphan born into the world of concentration camps and Sylvie begins to channel her grief for Arthur into this little boy. She gives him Arthur’s name and begins to embroil him in her grief and loneliness, at the cost of him losing his own identity and heritage.
Sylvie’s mind is trapped in a realm where her dead son is buried in the park (he isn’t). A park she visits every Thursday with a handful of flower buds for him. She is waiting until her Arthur is big enough and strong enough to come back to her. A story she tells her new Arthur, a story he hears often. Told over and over about ‘the other little Arthur’ but never hearing his own story.
As Arthur grows up in a house with his father, referred to as ‘General Gerald’ for those times he acts as though he is still in the army, and his brother who sides with his father in their constant jibes against him, Arthur feels ever more disassociated with his family.
As Sylvia’s physical and mental health decline Arthur spends more and more time in the park where he meets Lydia, a woman looking after a set of twins.
In a bid to carve an independent life for himself, Arthur leaves the family home and starts renting a run down room with Lydia on the Holloway Road.
Lydia has mental issues of her own and Arthur struggles to find himself between her issues and his odd collection of neighbours.
This book is by no means an easy read, both in subject matter and style. The story is constructed with short punchy paragraphs and incomplete lines. The fractured prose mirroring the fractured thoughts of the narrators, be that Sylvie or Arthur.
The timeline jumps around and takes a little time to get into. Switching between Arthur and Harry’s childhood and back to the late 1960’s when Arthur is in his twenties.
For me this is a book you need to read in a short time and with no outside distractions. It took a little concentration for me to hold on to the sometimes ethereal, dreamlike style of writing. It is also a book that I wouldn’t want to put down and return to.
I gobbled up the second half of this book one Sunday afternoon and if I’m honest I’m glad it didn’t go too heavy on the religion/Jewish element as I originally thought it might.
I was caught up in Arthur’s story and I was saddened by the deterioration in poor Sylvie’s mental health. A woman who so desperately wanted her little Arthur back.
This book explores loss, grief, lives changed by war, identity and place. It’s an emotive but hard hitting read. I swept along with Sylvia and Arthur and I am glad I read their story.
Not a book for everyone, but if you like to read about any of the themes mentioned above and enjoy a quirkily styled book then I would recommend getting your hands on this one.
Thank you as always to the publisher and Anne Cater did the review copy of this great read.
See you soon
Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx