on July 25, 2011
I don't usually write reviews, but I was dismayed by the undeserved bad reviews this book received. Two of the reviewers compared the book to a cheap romance novel- It is nothing of the kind. I have read my share of cheap romances and they always follow a strict formula; "The Very Thought of You" is definately NOT formula.
This book is about love, but it is about so much more too. It a book about a place and a time past- and the gut wrenching longing of characters who try to grasp what they love only to find it slipping through their fingers like sand.
What I like most about this book is that it makes me think about love and longing in my own life. To me that is mark of worthwhile literature.
on July 20, 2011
When I picked up The Very Thought of You, I was hoping for something along the lines of Sarah's Key by Tatiana deRosnay or Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford; another great story in the back drop of WWII. I loved about the first 50 pages. Soon enough I find the sexual life of each of the characters. Not one of the main characters has moral standards, which call me naive but I don't think it is representative of the time period. I think this is more of a cheap romance than a novel of substance.
I thought this novel sounded interesting. It turned out to be a very different story than what I expected it to be. Anna Sands is eight years old in 1939 when she is evacuated from London to a country estate owned by Thomas and Elizabeth Ashton. The Ashtons have no children of their own and have turned their home into a school for evacuees.
I thought Anna Sands would play a larger role in the story than she did because this novel was billed as a coming of age story but I didn't think it was a coming of age story at all. And I think it could have been a stronger story if Anna had be edited out of the book entirely.
This was really a novel about love, marriage and fidelity (or rather infidelity). There's a lot of cheating going on with the characters in this book and I can see why that would irritate some readers. But, I thought it was an interesting examination of marriage and could generate some good discussion if it was read with the right book group.
Some of the questions it made me ask were; Why did the Ashtons marry? Did they ever really love each other? What did they love about each other? Why did they close themselves off to each other, what were they so afraid of?
The narrative is very slow and sometimes strange with unusual and maybe awkward word choices. But I think the author was successful at creating realistic and human characters and conveying their emotions. There were some events that seemed far too prolonged in developing and some miscommunication that I didn't find completely believable. But there was a little bit of something that reminded me of Daphne Du Maurier and that I liked.
I think this would have been a stronger novel if the author had focused her attention on the Ashtons and their relationship and left the thread of Anna Sands out of the adult interactions. I did like reading about the Nortons, who were friends of the Ashtons, as I was reading about them I wondered if they were real people. I appreciated the author's note including the fact that the Nortons, were the author's cousins and their experiences both during and before the war inspired this novel.
While I don't think this book will be for everyone, and only a favorite for a select group I do think it was worth reading.
on May 26, 2016
Years ago I read that a high percentage of children sent to the country during the blitz went unclaimed when the war was over (not that the parents had died, the children were just unclaimed). I have never been able to find if those numbers were true and if they were true, why. I haven't been able to find out much about this at all, so when I come across something relating to the situation, I read it.
This thing is just a mess. It might have made some sort of sense as a series of connected short stories. But presented as a novel... it is just inane.
I wasn't sure till the end who the main characters were. I now assume the last survivors were the stars. I had no interest In either of them. In fact I had no interest in any of the characters. And have no idea at all why the female lead seems to have wasted her life pining for the male lead. I got there and thought ... well, decorum prevents me from saying here what I said when I read that part.
I ended up skimming from the half way point, and only finished because I wondered if the author would say anything about unclaimed children. Do not waste any money on this thing.
on January 15, 2013
Set during the early stages of WWII in England, this novel centers around Anna, a young girl in London whose father is a soldier. As the threat of attacks grows imminent, Anna is sent away to the countryside as part of the mass evacuations of children prior to the Blitz. She ends up at a large country home that has been turned into a school for the duration of the war by Thomas and Elizabeth Ashton. While things appear fine between them on the surface, we see cracks that are forming in a crumbling relationship with infidelity occurring on both sides. Anna witnesses several events that she doesn't completely understand, and yet will influence her live and those around her. We learn of the history of Thomas and Elizabeth and how they ended up in their current state. While initially having difficulty at her new home, Anna begins to flourish and grow in her changed circumstances. On a separate front, the story also follows Anna's mother as she regains her old freedoms in war-time London. Terrible tragedies occur in both story lines, and then we jump into the future to see the consequences of these events on the survivors. While an interesting tale, it leans towards the more negative side of human nature, which sometimes makes it difficult to connect with the characters and their motivations.
This novel is just full of broken hearts, people for whom life has taken sad twists and turns, and left them sad, lonely, and searching for love and fulfilment. Opening in London in 1939, Anna and her mother Roberta are on a shopping trip, but not a happy one. This shopping trip is to purchase the clothes that Anna will be taking with her as she is evacuated from London. Thousands of children are being evacuated as the threat of bombing in London becomes more real. As Roberta watches the bus with her only child on it pull away from the station, she is alone, her daughter headed to a destination she is not even sure of, and her husband serving in the army. Anna, trying to be brave on a bus full of children she doesn't know, many of them crying for their mothers, is also alone, headed to an unknown destination, away from her home and her parents, only eight years old. On a journey that will forever change her life, Anna's destination on this day is the home of Elizabeth and Thomas Ashton, who have opened their home to eighty six of the London evacuees, turning their home into a dormitory and school in order to take in these temporarily homeless children. Elizabeth and Thomas have also had much sorrow in their lives, and they are trying to make sense of their lives as they have become, Thomas confined to a wheelchair and Elizabeth longing for a child, but unable to conceive. As Anna's life becomes entwined with that of the Ashton's, events occur that will shape Anna's adult life. A haunting story, this is a riveting debut novel.
I admit I'm puzzled: this novel was short listed by the judges for the Orange Prize last year in the UK -- a reasonably sane body of people who don't award that accolade lightly. Even when I don't agree with the literary merits of the books that end up on their shortlists, I can usually understand how they ended up there. But not this time...
The novel is the story of Anna Sands, a young evacuee who, in 1939, is sent out of London to avoid the bombing that is expected to hit on the outbreak of war. She ends up at Ashton Hall, home to Thomas Ashton, a diplomat crippled by polio, and his somewhat distant yet glamorous wife, Elizabeth. The novel's problems appear almost immediately immediately: the story is cluttered by too many points of view, so that what could (and I think, should) be a story told largely through Anna's eyes is made into something almost pedestrian by being sure that the reader knows about every single thought every single character has cross his or her mind -- sometimes repeatedly and over and over, to screaming point. I felt like hollering that I UNDERSTAND that Thomas is in love; stop beating me over the head with it! I GET that Elizabeth is frustrated that she can't bear a child... and so on. There's no room for subtlety or nuance here, even in the writing, which too often tips over into the florid purple prose more characteristic of a formula romance.
But then, this book really is just a romance novel in fancy dress, as for most of it the reader is immersed, repeatedly, in Thomas's ponderings about the nature of his love for a new woman in his life, and various dimensions of Elizabeth's shallow personality, combined with Anna's experiences at Ashton Hall, as part of a school set up by Elizabeth to help compensate for her childlessness. I found myself thinking of it as if it were a novel by Barbara Taylor Bradford, albeit with much better writing.
The author's reach, sadly, has exceeded her grasp with this novel -- it's a shame given that there is a germ of a very good novel buried amid the romantic flourishes and curlicues, one that revolves around the complex relationship that develops between the child Anna and Thomas Ashton, and how that complicates Anna's later life. With a good editor, this could have been a great book. As it is, it is probably a good beach read for those fond of a romantic novel with lots of psychological twists to it, or an interesting book for anyone wanting a story set against the backdrop of World War II. But while a lot of the Orange Prize nominees are books I'd quite cheerfully recommend to my male friends and acquaintances as just great stories told by a woman, I'd find it hard to say the same of this -- it's a quintessential "women's novel" that only just escapes reading like formula fiction. 3.3 stars, rounded down.
Full disclosure: I received advance electronic galleys from the publisher.
on August 6, 2011
The Very Thought of You is set during WWII. It is the story of a young girl, Anna Sands, evacuated from London before the bombing started. She is sent to live on a Yorkshire estate that has been turned into a school for children coming from London. A young couple, Thomas and Elizabeth Ashton, open there home to these children and enjoy having the kids around since they have not been able to have any children of their own. While at this school Anna observes the Ashtons and learns things that she is not supposed to. She gets caught up in the Ashton's unhappy marriage and a love affair that has disastrous results.
I love books set during WWII so I was looking forward to reading this one. I did learn a lot about all of the children that were taken from their families in London to be safe in the country. Rosie Alison does a great job of showing the heartbreak of these kids and how they adjust to the situation. This was the most enjoyable part of the book for me.
The deteriorating marriage of the Ashton's was painful to read about. I found the main theme of this book to be the pain and loneliness that most of the characters in the book felt. So much time was spent on looking at the characters inner lives, their thoughts, and their misery. There was very little hope to be found. The only character that I found likable at all was Thomas Ashton. After so many difficulties in his life he at least tried to find the joy in it as well. This is something neither Elizabeth Ashton or Anna Sands in later years seemed able to do.
I enjoyed the book for the historical aspects and the descriptions of the Ashton estate, but the unhappiness of the characters and all of the unrequited love were really too much for me. It would have been nice to have had a small sense of hope for these characters.
on June 30, 2014
This book was given to me to read by a co-worker, and as our reading tastes are usually similar I looked forward to reading this debut novel from this Author. I will come straight out now and say the only reason this book received the two thumbs it did is because it is located in my home county of Yorkshire, England.
However, if you like books with multiple characters, each with their own separate plot and agenda, this may be the book for you. I found the profusion of characters and plots became rather confusing after a while, and this nearly resulted in my consigning it to my empty ‘did not finish’ pile. The reason it did not end up there was the hope I held that when I turned the next page the development of the main protagonist would start and the storyline proper would then get underway. Unfortunately this was not to be the case and I’m not sure if it is the sheer number of characters that prevented this, or sympathy for the Author that they may have been a little unsure of themselves in this area of their writing. I feel that if the Author had pared down the amount of characters in the novel, and concentrated some of that energy into the development of the key ones, this would have become a much better, if not compelling, read.
What a disappointment, I was expecting a book based around the evacuees from the London Blitz and the way it affected them both mentally and physically; I was expecting maybe something more along the lines of ‘Good Night, Mr. Tom’, but received a rehashing of parts of ‘The Go-Between’ and ‘Atonement’ without any of the plot development or characters that would truly make it worth the time I invested in reading this. I feel that an outstanding editor would have been able to point out these issues to the Author, and with gentle guidance been able to help them turn this into a fresh perspective on love and happiness.
The ending of this book was the final nail in the coffin for me; most of the novel takes place during World War II, and when I say most it is probably about 75% of the book, then in the final 25% the Author suddenly felt the need to cram sixty years into about 50 pages; no explanation or tie in to the rest of the book, just ‘here it is’. In this particular case this is one of those books that would have been better off left with an open-ending without the Author feeling the need to tie everything up neatly.
Unfortunately I don’t feel I could recommend this book to any one group of readers, but it may be something that book clubs would enjoy dissecting at their meetings.
Originally reviewed on: http://catesbooknuthut.com/2014/04/02...
on March 18, 2012
A friend lent me this book knowing I am interested in reading books on WW11. I was very disappointed in the book as it mainly centers around the illicit love affairs of all the adult characters except for one husband who is in Egypt in the army. It became very tedious and very predictable. I was two thirds through the book and found nothing had happened but the love affairs and that I was just plowing through it- very slow read. I felt he author didn't quite know how to end the book.Everyone dies and it is a depressing read. The author centers the book around one child who loses a parent. I am sure other children in the home did as well but this was never mentioned. I will say the author is a skillful writer and for a debut novel it was good. Her writing skills are very good but her subject matter didn't match to her writing skills. As other reviewers have said, I too am surprised that it shortlisted for that prestigious award. It is just another romance- girly book.