A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Wartime romances are not generally on my list of must-reads. I expect schmaltzy love stories between doll-faced maidens and battle-hardened heroes. However, Catherine Law is a first time novelist and I’m a sucker for debut novels, so I agreed to take a look at A Season of Leaves. I found a vivid and haunting novel that has made its way into my top three favourite books of the year.
At the beginning of the novel we meet an old lady called Rose (echoes of the film Titanic in the structure of this novel perhaps) who has discovered some undelivered letters relating to a secret in her past. Her daughters have planned a trip for her to Prague, as they know she once lived there and Rose intends to read these precious letters once she arrives. The book then transports us back to Rose’s early life and we follow her on a journey through wartime Plymouth, Cornwall and onto Czechoslovakia.
A Season of Leaves is a finely-worked love story, one that had me on tenterhooks throughout and overwhelmed at the end. The young Rose, or ‘Ginge’ as she is known, is a land-girl sent from her home to work a farm in the Cornish countryside. She leaves behind her parents and her manipulative fiancé – who is an excellent baddie, incidentally – to make a new life with a warm but no-nonsense family. The work is back-breaking and as a city girl she has a painful initiation into the world of manual labour, but she perceives the beauty of the landscape, and she is keen to play her part in the war effort.
At a local bop she meets a Czech soldier named Krystof who is serving with the American forces. Their relationship is the backbone of this novel, and while it is undoubtedly a great love that ultimately leaves the reader with a sense of simultaneous euphoria and grief, it falls short of feeling like a literary love, i.e. one of those romances so perfect that it could only ever exist in a novel – see The Time Traveler’s Wife for an example of this.
A Season of Leaves made me consider the importance of timing in love. Both Rose and Krystof develop intense feelings for each other very quickly, and the reader is not blind to the fact that both are them are desperate for romance in their lives. They meet at a particular time when they are both ready to experience love. They need it. And it is as much about being loved, as about becoming a person who can offer love to someone else. I was left with the sense that if Rose and Krystof had met in a different place, on a different day, even at a different hour, they might have remained strangers forever. There is something both wonderful and terrifying about that.
In terms of style, with its attention to detail and narrative control, A Season of Leaves reminded me of the work of D. H. Lawrence, an author that I very much admire.
I have a tendency to write long reviews but this novel has me stumped. There is nothing within A Season of Leaves with which I can find fault. Put simply, I loved reading it. I suppose, being ultra-nitpicky, I could have done without the rather melodramatic ‘A secret kept for a lifetime…A love that never died’, which appears on the front cover.
I’m reluctant to give away spoilers but if you enjoy romantic novels told with finesse and compassion then this might be for you.
N.B. I feel compelled to own that as a Plymouth girl living in Cornwall with a mad desire to visit Prague, the settings of this novel could have been made for me, so my hands are up for potential settings bias! Also, I would have liked to have quoted some of the text, but I am afraid I read an uncorrected proof copy and therefore I cannot quote from it.
Preface Publishing, ISBN-13: 978-1848090415, 352 pages, 12.99.