I have recently read a few books set during the first and second world wars, and have found myself enjoying them, despite assuming I might not! I spotted this at the library and as it had a similar theme, decided to give it a whirl.
At the start of this book, it is the present day and we are introduced to Jo, who has moved into her late great-aunt’s house in Brighton following a stint in Afghanistan as a war photographer. Her narrative is addressed to her former lover, Susie, and we find out that Jo is struggling to come to terms with all she has seen during her work in various war zones. In the first chapter Jo also comes across an old diary, written by Elizabeth, her great-aunt’s mother – Jo’s great-grandmother. The book alternates between past and present, and as the novel progresses we find out more about Jo’s career and her relationship with Susie, interspersed with extracts from Elizabeth’s diary.
Elizabeth worked in the Brighton Pavilion hospital caring for injured Indian soldiers during the war. Her tale is really interesting and I felt I learnt a lot from it, and I also really liked hearing Elizabeth’s voice – despite being intelligent and independent, she is still obviously influenced by the traditions of that time. The contrasts and similarities between the past and the present day work brilliantly, and I found each of the two stories equally fascinating. I thought the parallels between the treatment of women, 100 years apart, worked very well. The chapters were short and I was always disappointed when each one ended and the perspective changed – only to find myself immediately engrossed again in the other story. This made the book really enjoyable to read – in fact, I felt a bit spoiled having two such brilliant stories in just one book.
My only slight reservation with this book is I found a few of the events that took place in Kabul to be slightly unbelievable, and I wasn’t sure of the accuracy of some of the portrayals of women, particularly Rashida, who worked with Jo on one of her photography projects.
But despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed this book – I found it very easy and interesting to read, and I also felt I learnt something when reading it. I will definitely be reading more from Hall and would recommend this to anyone who is interested in both modern and historical fiction, as this is a fascinating mix of the two.
My rating: 9 out of 10