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I love Clara Benson's witty whodunnits and was keen to read this book. It is in an entirely different genre, a deeply serious and very intense family drama set during and after World War 2. It opens with an airman, Alec McLeod, having been forced to parachute from his Spitfire into occupied France. A young resistance worker, Maggie Brouillard, arranges for him to be hidden and helped to escape. This is his firt encounter with the Brouillard family, whom he is to encounter next in post-war England. There is Rose, the matriarch, Cecilia, her disabled daughter and Sebastien, her surviving son, all of them musicians living out the heritage of their famous composer father and still wrestling with the damage done to their family by their experiences during the war. Maggie and another brother are dead. This book is very well-researched and has all the ingredients of a thoroughly engrossing story - wartime adventure, family tensions, music, ambition, romance. I found it readable and, at times, almost unbearably tense and tragic. I also felt faintly disgusted. (I'm truly sorry about this, since I hate being cruel to authors. They have poured themselves onto the page, making themselves very vulnerable iin the process.) The book read like a carefully-planned bid at producing a best-seller, not always skilfully written. The worst thing about it was the fact that the characters were unconvincing, as though they had been manipulated in order to make the story come to the right dramatic ending. With greater skill, these could have been written convincingly and the events would them have arisen from character, which is the right way to make a novel flow. The secretary, Harriet's motives were particularly unconvincing when, for example, she read private documents not intended for her. I had the feeling that she had to read them in order to carry the story forward. The little boy, Rex, was not drawn with enough sympathy and depth. Rose was just thoroughly nasty and I did not see why her adult children should obey her so slavishly. I know from real-life experiences how much a cruel and manipulative mother can damage her children, but real mothers have more than one dimension. We did not glimpse how Rose herself suffered, in order to make her such a foul human being. Emil was selfish and deeply flawed and I could not see why he inspired such devotion from two women. A better writer would have made me see it. Sebastien I found reasonably convincing until he caused the dramatic ending of the book. OTT and turgid are the expressions that come to mind then (and at other points of the book). Other people loved this book so I may be completely off-the-wall. In a way, I hope I am. However, I wished Clara Benson had stuck to light-hearted humour and mystery.
I did want to keep reading and the characters were strongly drawn, however, the story never really pulled me enough. Surely, someone working with the French resistance wouldn't give that information to their young brother, and to let him know what was happening. Sebastian was pretty unbelievable and reminded me of Mr Rochester's wife in Jane Eyre. In fact Rose wasn't easy to believe in either as she was just so extreme. As for Cecilia, well I could just about believe in her some of the time. The writing otherwise did provide hooks and made me want to know more but the characters that held my attention most were Harriet, Alec and Emil. They seemed far more real than any of the others. I suppose what I'm saying is that I felt the story had too many weaknesses for my enjoyment.