I finished this book well over a week ago, so If I don’t write a review of this book soon I will loose the flavour of it.
The style of writing is excellent, and one wants to read on, her word pictures are beautiful.
Hilary Wainwright is a poet and intellectual. He was married to a French girl, Lisa. They have a baby boy, who he sees one time before leaving for England in 1940, WWII. She dies during the war and now after the war he comes back to look for his son.
The questions asked are. Will he be able to find his son? How will he know it is his son? And does he even want his son? These questions are the basis of the story, and turn the ending into a cliff hanger.
Haunting pictures of post war France are drawn, people are coming to grips with their involvement during Nazi occupation.
What was Hilary Wainwright doing during the war? And his ambiguous relationship with his mother.
Why did he take so long in coming back to France to look for his son?
Hilary’s relationship with Pierre, the Frenchman who found this child and takes him on an unfolding journey to look for his son.
Some quotes from the book.
The residence of Madame Quilleboeuf.
“‘What an extraordinary place,’ said Hilary, standing in the entrance and staring at the grass growing between the cobblestones. ‘This isn’t Paris – it’s some shabby village away from all the routes natioanales.’ He added with a kind of delight, ‘It’s a splendidly romantic place to begin a search from.”
“But at the sight of Pierre her great hooked nose and nutcracker chin came together in a wide smile and in a hoarse voice she said, ‘So you have come back with your friend, monsieur. Enter!’ ”
Hilary’s description of Monsieur Mercatel. “He looks like an Englishman, was Hilary’s first thought, but he did not. He might have been a native of any country, this small thin grey-haired gentleman, kindly mouth, mild blue eyes, the cultured European of true goodness, but of no importance what so ever.”
The following quote so sums up Hilary and his relationship with Pierre and what type of men they both are.
“And this led him to think about Pierre who had said that under the Occupation people had done what they must, and that what this was had been settled long before. He thought, Pierre is a better man than I. He has the liberal virtues that I profess and personally lack. I am an intolerant perfectionist; Pierre refrains from judging anyone but himself. And yet I am a liberal intellectual, and Pierre is devoting himself to the furtherance of illiberal perfection. But Pierre can be tolerant of me, but I can’t be tolerant of him.”
The mother superior talking to Hilary at the orphanage.
“She smiled, ‘Ah, you feel it too,’ she said, ‘and I wonder whether you share the other rather strange feeling I had about this boy – that here was a child that would give one great happiness to help?’ She peered intently at him, shading her eyes with a frail yellow hand on which the mauve veins stood out in swollen relief. But Hilary’s face showed none of the sudden comprehension and hope he felt at her words, and she let her hand fall into her lap and added gently, ‘And have you any idea whether he is your son, Mr. Wainwright?'”
“Monsieur Mercatel said. ‘I have been wanting to tell you, monsieur, speaking as his schoolmaster, what I think of the boy. Whether he is your son or not, of course I cannot say. What I can say, is that he is certainly the son of someone like you.'”
“Hilary said vehemently, ‘I couldn’t bear to take the wrong child and then perhaps find my own later on.’
‘But you will not.’ said the nun, ‘that is as nearly certain as anything can be. If this child is not yours, then you will never find your son.'”
“‘Why? asked Hilary sharply, ‘Why are you so anxious that I should take him?’ She looked at him steadily for a moment and then said, ‘There are many reasons. One is that I am deeply sorry for you. You seem to me to be lost and in need of comfort. I would not wish to withhold that comfort from you.'”
Hilary thinking while with the woman who he picked up.
“The chatter flared around him while he thought of the queer change Parisian women undergo between the delicate faun-like beauty of their youth and the predatory brassiness of their middle age and how seldom it was that one saw, as he could see in Nelly, the brief stage of transition between the two.”
“Hilary said nothing. He stood there watching the child, feeling only hate for the creature who had put him in this predicament, through whose intervention he had made a fool of himself. The little coward, he was saying, the little coward.”
“You see, Pleaded Hilary, I am incapable of giving. I dare not give and so I’m running away. I’ve finished with ordeals. I am fleeing to the anaesthesia of immediate comfort and absolute non-obligation.”
I had two more quotes but I think that will give away the ending. The beauty of the well written word shines through.
Did I totally understand Hilary? No, as a mother I found him very hard to connect with. Academically I understood where he was coming from, but it did not endear him to me.
Did I enjoy reading the book and would I recommend it? Yes, absolutely.