Sunday, 1 September 2013

The Sun's Companion by Kathleen Jones

This is not at all my usual reading material, so I'm not entirely sure how to describe this novel - other than to say I loved it! Not literary fiction, not genre fiction - it's almost the novelisation of a book of modern history, with characters I came to care about and scenes that were vivid and real. It's the story of Tamar and Anna, teenagers from very different backgrounds, set against the backdrop of war.

Tamar has spent her life on the move from town to town, dragged around by her flighty mother and longing to put down roots and find somewhere she can call home. She believes her father to be dead and while she loves her mother and her unconventional way of life, she longs for stability, security and an education. Meanwhile Anna is part German, part English - and part Jew growing up in 1930s Germany. As Anna's English mother runs for home and safety, Anna is forced to leave behind her beloved father and everything she knows to the mercy of the growing threat of Hitler and everything he stands for.

Two new girls at the same school in North East England, both are thrown into what at times is an uneasy friendship. Tamar longs for university but is forced to leave school and start earning in order to survive. Anna's well-off English grandparents will pay for her education, but all Anna wants is to paint. And as England slips over the edge into war, both discover hidden strengths and a bond that will stand the test of war, time and everything else fate can throw at it.

This is a richly-detailed novel giving a fascinating insight into everyday life in war-time England. From rationing to bomb shelters, from the hard daily grind of the land-girls to the government run internment camps, from boarding-house to docks, everything is vividly alive, engaging all five senses. I don't think I've ever read anything that has immersed me so thoroughly into time and place. These people must be real and I'm sure if I go and visit the area, these farms will actually exist! Utterly gripping and I didn't want it to end.

The Sun's Companion