Sarah Waters has done it again. By "it", I mean written yet another gripping, surprising, addictive novel. When I enjoy an author's work this much, I always approach a new book with eagerness and trepidition ... I'm eager to read, while at the same time being aware that there's always the chance that the magic will be gone and they'll have done the author equivalent of jumping the shark. But not this time.
I have to describe the outside of book first. Because it's part of the brilliance. The novel takes place in the Forties, and the book LOOKS as if it was published at that time. The publisher has carefully duplicated the flat, dull-but-not-dull colours and matte paper of the dust jackets of the time. The large-written author name and title, with a small, one-colour illustration. The excerpt printed on the back of the jacket. I have quite a few books that actually ARE from the Forties, and this could easily pass for one of them ... because of the features I've listed above and one additional thing. Take a good look at the cover image I linked to above. See the scuff marks along the spine and front edge? The little tears in the paper at the top and bottom of the spine and in the top edge? Perfection. I've got my 1940 copy of Jan Struther's "Mrs. Miniver" sitting on the desk in front of me for comparision, and the dust jacket wear/scuffing is in exactly the same places ... somebody did their research well (these two volumes could be sisters ... just that the real thing has the colours reversed, with a dull, pinky-orange background and light navy lettering that are perfect colour matches to the new book).
That well-done exterior is icing on the lucious word-cake inside. Which is, in itself, quite an ordinary story. Really. If anybody else told it, in the usual way, it'd probably be a bit of a yawn. But Waters' talent has turned the ordinary into the extraordinary by telling the tale in reverse. The book is divided into three sections ... the first takes place in 1947, the second in 1944, and the third in 1941. That's where the fascination and the real brilliance lies ... one reads the conclusion of the tale first and then just HAS to find out HOW the characters got there. One guesses. One is lured into thinking one has guessed correctly. One is dead wrong and can't wait to see what really happened next. Or, rather, what really happened before.
Waters' background research has, as usual, been impeccable; her descriptions of conditions in London during the war and immediately post-war are spot-on, compared to the many autobiographical accounts I've read. :-)
And that's all I'm gonna say, 'cause I don't wanna spoiler the surprise. Except for this ... I really wish I could rewind my day so I could read it for the first time all over again. :-)
EDIT: Just so anyone not familiar with old books can see what I was blithering about up there ...
You can tell they're sisters, can't you? My copy of "Mrs. Miniver" was published in 1940.