An epic, sweeping tale of love and loss inspired by heartrending true events in the Unoccupied Zone of wartime France.
The Silent Hours follows three people whose lives are bound together, before war tears them apart:
Adeline, a mute who takes refuge in a convent, haunted by memories of her past;
Sebastian, a young Jewish banker whose love for the beautiful Isabelle will change the course of his life dramatically; Tristin, a nine-year-old boy, whose family moves from Paris to settle in a village that is seemingly untouched by war.
Beautifully wrought, utterly compelling and with a shocking true story at its core, The Silent Hours is an unforgettable portrayal of love and loss.
I received this direct from the Publishers (Corvus Books) in exchange for a review. This book has multiple voices, spanning approximately 10 years around WWII in German Occupied France.
It ranges from the mute Adeline, mother of Isabelle, who is staying in a convent following the war. She submits to ongoing tests by French and English doctors in an attempt to find out why she does not speak. We get to hear via Adeline’s dreams there was a trauma she witnessed during the war. Her failure to speak, and also a failure to commit to becoming a nun, frustrates the Mother Superior, and there are thinly veiled threats about moving Adeline away.
Isabelle is a teacher, whose brother Paul gets called up then captured. The two write letters to each other, but we’re never quite sure they reach each other. The one where Isabelle confesses to be in love with (and pregnant by) the Jewish banker Sebastian definitely doesn’t reach him. For Isabelle, being unmarried and pregnant to a man her mother doesn’t remember meeting makes life in the small town very difficult.
Sebastian is Jewish, and he and his father are bankers. Sebastian is out one day visiting Isabelle and he returns home to find his parents have disappeared. He spends some time living rough (he is one of the German Spies that Tristin believes is living in the run down shack outside of town), but it becomes too risky for both him and Isabelle for him to stay, so he slowly makes his way to England.
Tristian is a young boy who sees the war through the eyes of the child he is – the uprooting from Paris to this small village, wondering whether the small boy Simon will ever come back to school – and not understanding references to “those people”, whether Pere Noel will find them this Christmas etc.
There’s a mix of letters and narratives in different voices, chapters are short (often a page long, and rarely dated, even letters) and there is a build up of the mystery as to what happened in the town and why Adaline is now mute. It all comes to a tie together at the end, where even the English doctor treating Adaline seems to have a vested interest in what happened in the village. The central mystery is dealt with in a few short chapters, told in present tense, and in retrospect with Adaline finally letting the walls down on her grief.
For a debut novel, I thought this was very well done, and finely executed. It did take me longer to complete than usual for a book of this size which generally tells me that whilst I liked the book, I didn’t love the book enough to not put it down until I finished.