I enjoyed this book much more than I thought I was going to when I started it. It seemed as if it was going to be yet another overwritten, debut novel. And to a certain extent that is exactly what it is. But it meanders along with some considerable charm. If you want to try and ‘genrealise’ (is that a word even, or did I make it up?) it’ll fit into WWII, historical fiction or chick lit very nicely.
It’s a grand little tale of what the war can do, and indeed does do, to people, their families and their lives. It asks questions about the nature of imprisonment that goes beyond mere physical incarceration. It’s about secrets and the divulging of these secrets. It’s about family in its broadest sense and some of the decisions women face and have faced throughout time.
This may smack of criticism and negativity but I did find it somewhat predictable and cliched. So what? What does it matter? Does a book have to be different and overtly original? If reading is about enjoyment, as it should be, I enjoyed reading this. It was well written and the characters were likeable and accessible. Connie is a very real person, maybe not always behaving as convention might demand but she is honest. She is the pivot that drives the rest of the story along, the maypole to which several of the other characters are attached. Many of them experiencing life dilemmas brought about by situations they could not influence. And if it feels like things you’ve read before then there’s some comfort in the familiar isn’t there?
The writer’s deep love of the forest location goes a long way to lifting the narrative out of its potential stereotypical trappings of war story. The descriptions offer a tangible sense of being within a forest that offered a sanctuary , the ‘shelter’ of the title, living and breathing trees. So much so that the forest becomes as much a character as the humans in the book.
It’s a credible debut novel from this writer and I will watch the progress of this book with interest.