Title: The Very Thought of You
Author: Rosie Alison
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):
“England, 31st August 1939: The world is on the brink of war. As Hitler prepares to invade Poland, thousands of children are evacuated from London to escape the impending Blitz. Torn from her mother, eight-year-old Anna Sands is relocated with other children to a large Yorkshire estate which has been opened up to evacuees by Thomas and Elizabeth Ashton, an enigmatic, childless couple. Soon Anna gets drawn into their unraveling relationship, seeing things that are not meant for her eyes and finding herself part-witness and part-accomplice to a love affair with unforeseen consequences. A story of longing, loss, and complicated loyalties, combining a sweeping narrative with subtle psychological observation, The Very Thought of You is not just a love story but a story about love.”
Thoughts: The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison is a surprisingly complicated story about love and loss of those left behind by the soldiers at the dawn of World War II. It follows the stories of multiple characters during the war and beyond, as they each try to find happiness and love during a time of tumult and chaos. Some are more successful than others, while others remain content with what they are able to experience.
The multiple character plot strands become a bit confusing after a while. There is the love triangle between Thomas, Elizabeth, and Ruth. Then there is Anna and her childish longings for her mother and for a father figure, and Roberta finding happiness and a newly-gained sense of freedom in war-torn London. There are too many characters for any one to be developed properly, and the individual stories do not coincide well enough for a continuously smooth transition from one strand to another. The result is a jagged, often confusing, jump from one character to another with no sense of continuity.
Another point of contention is the fact that the ending seems rushed. Three-fourths of the novel occurs during World War II and is strengthened by the reader’s knowledge of what is occurring during that time. The final section of the novel, approximately fifty pages, covers a time span of over sixty years. This is a huge jump in time with very little or explanation or connection to previous sections. The reader is left feeling that Ms. Alison was compelled to connect two key plot lines together without thinking through the impact it would have on the overall novel. Some stories are best left open-ended, without the author connecting the dots. The Very Thought of You would have been one of them, had Ms. Alison left well enough alone and ended the novel with the second world war.
The Very Thought of You was shortlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize for fiction, and I must confess that I remain unconvinced as to why it was. I was not drawn into any of the stories and found several of the key characters quite despicable. None of them had very much backbone, and while their weaknesses created much of the drama, I still scoffed at some of the realism behind their actions.
The Very Thought of You is one of those novels in which my expectations did not live up to reality, in that I was really hoping to read a story about the children sent away during the London Blitz and the psychological impact of such upheaval. Rather, the children’s plight is one small portion of a much larger, and more complex novel. Without some of the extraneous characters and story offshoots, The Very Thought of You would have been a compelling reader. Instead, it tries too hard to define love and belonging. It is not a horrible novel, but there is an element of redundancy to it that is disappointing, as I do not feel Ms. Alison was breaking new ground in any way but rather rehashing old facts and philosophies about love and happiness. She falls short in making it a fresh perspective, and the reader is left disappointed.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to Atria Books Galley Grab for this review copy!