by Helen Dunmore
Daniel is a shell-shocked WW1 soldier who has made his way back to his native Cornwall, to a place full of ghosts. His mother is dead so he goes to the home of Mary Pascoe, an elderly, reclusive blind woman who allows him to stay in a hut on her land. When Mary dies Daniel buries her in her own ground (her dying wish) and takes ownership of her cottage, inventing an elaborate subterfuge so that the locals believe she’s still alive.
Daniel has been traumatised by his experiences in the war. He is regularly plagued by visitations from a soldier “clagged in mud from head to foot”. This soldier is Frederick, his adored childhood friend and fellow combatant who perished in the trenches alongside Daniel, who could do nothing to save him.
Then Daniel is re-united with Felicia, Frederick’s sister, the third member of their childhood triumvirate. A young war-widow with a small child, Felicia is struggling to keep up the huge house that was her childhood home. This is where they played and where Daniel plundered the library filling his head with the knowledge that he craved having left school to go to work, in order to help keep his widowed mother. While he helps her with the upkeep of the house, Felicia and Daniel become close but we know that it’s Frederick that he loved.
When the local people, and even Felicia, start to become curious about the whereabouts of Mary Pascoe, things start to get difficult for Daniel and the lie is no longer sustainable.
This is a brilliant novel, cleverly evoking the horror of war through Daniel’s awful flashbacks and hallucinations and written, as ever, in Dunmore’s skilful and poetic prose.
Published in paperback by Windmill Books on May 8th 2014 – 320pp
Read our interview with Helen Dunmore.