The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison is set in England during the Second World War. Anna Sands, a young girl living in London, is evacuated from the city along with other children and moved to the countryside where it is hoped the children will be safe from the bombings taking place in the city. Anna is relocated to the Ashton Estate in the Yorkshire countryside; Elizabeth and Thomas Ashton, a childless couple, have opened their estate to the evacuees where they educate and care for the youngsters. This haunting war time novel chronicles the suffering during the war but also the impact of the war time experience for years to come.
There is an obvious theme of separation in The Very Thought of You as the children live away from their parents and homes but separation pervades this novel and taints almost all relationships between the characters; in fact, the quote below very accurately sums up the novel:
"one long story of separation, just as Wordsworth had said. From people, from places, from the past you could never quite reach even as you lived it"Many characters have been shattered by loss and and are separated both literally and metaphorically from those they love. It is as if they are outsiders observing their lives and desperately wanting to participate but they are held back by their inability to express love freely - an emotional stunting arising from pasts filled with too much loneliness and tragedy. Thomas suffered the loss of siblings to disease and WWI and the following is said about its effect upon him:
Thomas felt he had been cut off at the roots. In the months that followed, he grew oddly estranged from himself. A profound detachment separated him from hope, and his heart was numbed, leaving him distanced from the quick of his feelings.And this quote referring to the children - the evacuees:
Yet none of these consolations could staunch the Christmas-night tears in the dormitories. The remembrance of home, of mothers, of fathers. The emotional wasteland of their lives without them. It would take years for many of them to dare to love again.The characters experience different losses and are changed in different ways by loss but all suffer from this chronic detachment.
I have seen this book referred to as a love story but I prefer to call it a story about love. It covers marital love, parental love and romantic love but is less about the love story itself and more about the characters' difficulty with love. There are glimpses of the redemptive power of love but they are only glimpses - the theme of unrequited love is much more dominant which lends a melancholy tone to the book. For that reason, I felt the book was the perfect length - long enough to appreciate the history that frames the novel and long enough for some therapeutic wallowing in the sadness that defines the novel but not so long as to plunge you into a depression over the aching loss experienced by the characters. Furthermore, the writing is excellent (hence all the quotes in this review) and I thought the author beautifully captured the emotions and at times, lack thereof, experienced by her characters. I will not soon forget the characters or their haunting stories.