Review: The Very Thought of You

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Very Thought of YouThe Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison
Published by Washington Square Press on July 5, 2011
Genres: Historical, Romance
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
two-stars

England, 31st August 1939: The world is on the brink of war. As Hitler prepares to invade Poland, thousands of children are evacuated from London to escape the impending Blitz. Torn from her mother, eight-year-old Anna Sands is relocated with other children to a large Yorkshire estate which has been opened up to evacuees by Thomas and Elizabeth Ashton, an enigmatic, childless couple. Soon Anna gets drawn into their unraveling relationship, seeing things that are not meant for her eyes and finding herself part-witness and part-accomplice to a love affair with unforeseen consequences. A story of longing, loss, and complicated loyalties, combining a sweeping narrative with subtle psychological observation, The Very Thought of You is not just a love story but a story about love.

The experience of reading The Very Thought of You was, for me, quite uneven. Parts of it had a tender, calm beauty, while other seemed unnecessarily banal. Generally, I enjoyed the sections that detailed the lives of the evacuees. This is an aspect of the affect of WWII that I have rarely read about and it was a pleasure to be able to do so. WWII is the frame of the story, but is largely distant from the tale, which was interesting, too.

The language was at times quite beautiful, although not particularly lyrical. It had a simplicity to it that made it feel natural. I would like to share two quotes that I adored. The first is a comment made to Anna when she has stayed up too late reading: “A true lover of books knows no time” (191). Why I love this is likely obvious. The second is an old, sad, lonely man’s reflection on his life: “So I may seem like an old wreck to you—but inside I’m still dancing, as they say” (292). This man has been through a lot, most of it awful and only some of that self-made, but he can still feel that overall his life has been a good one. That is some powerful stuff, and it does not come off as some forced message, but as a simple, beautiful truth.

There were two aspects of this novel I did not enjoy. The more minor of the two is something I see as a weakness in the storytelling: the viewpoint, which generally follows Anna or the Ashtons occasionally shifted to the Nortons, friends of the Ashtons. These sections always seemed to come out of nowhere and really did not seem important to the overall narrative. Having finished the book, they seem to have been included to allow more discussion of artists (perhaps Alison is a big fan of the art of that time period) and to allow her to add a scene about the Holocaust. The temptation to include the latter is understandable, but I did not appreciate her hurried attempt to fit it in; in my opinion, the book would have been better off had she remained within her main construct.

More frustrating was that this, like a surprising number of other books I have read, seems to be showing that all marriages result in unhappiness, affairs and, ultimately, divorce. While I imagine this is often true, I find it frustrating when every single main character ends up the same way. I would not call this a glorification of affairs, so much as a de-glorification of matrimony and a Chretien de Troyes-ish sense that true love lies outside of marriage. I’m not saying that every novel should depict wedded bliss, as that would be unrealistic, but not every could cheats (or so I choose to hope).

Regardless of my opinion, The Very Thought of You has received a really great reception, having been considered for the Orange Prize. The book is certainly well written and covers a fairly unique war experience, that of the children left behind and safe, physically anyway. It may not have been precisely my cup of tea, but, if it sounds good to you, please do not let me dissuade you.

2 responses to “Review: The Very Thought of You”

  1. Gea Bridged says:

    Thank you for this review! it seem so even and honest that you do not just express the thought of enjoying it but also you express and told the flaws of the book written. I like honest reviewers that of which giving the readers-to be a perfect view of the book. in this way we can see and weigh out which would be the better books that should be read. thank you much! i’ll be reading other reviews in a bit.. bless you and keep it up!

    • Christina says:

      Awwww, thank you so much! That’s always lovely to hear. My reviews keep getting longer as I blog more, because I’m really trying to present the good and the bad, assuming the book has both. 🙂

      I appreciate it!

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