by Lesley Glaister (Sandstone Press) ★★★★✩
IF YOU’VE read one Lesley Glaister novel, you’ve invariably read them all. She’s a reader’s secret, producing reliably pleasurable historical novels about ordinary lives caught up in events, and which combine psychological insight with an immersive sense of time and place. In short, she’s the perfect lockdown novelist so if you’ve yet to discover her, now’s the ideal time.
We meet Clem in a field hospital towards the end of World War I. In quick succession she falls in love with a surgeon, becomes pregnant, loses both baby and surgeon in a German bombardment and is back home to her unhappy marriage to a doctor. Yet an encounter with unemployed and disfigured war veteran Victor sets in motion a propulsive sequence of events that soon jeopardises the cloying safety of her marriage.
Through Clem, Glaister makes a poignant comment on a generation of young women given access to challenging and fulfilling occupations during the war, yet compelled by convention after it ended to retreat silently back into unfulfilling lives.
As Clem, a talented amateur artist, becomes more involved with Victor, Glaister spreads out her sympathy evenly — both she and Victor are guilty of seeing what they wish to see in the other person, rather than what is really there.
Glaister keeps her sensational plot on track by making Clem a realistic character, and if the ending appears too neat, she’s far too clever a writer not to leave the reader with a lingering feeling of unease.