I was introduced to this book by BookerTalk who has written a great piece along with the author Thorne Moore for the Put A Book on the Map feature which will be posted on Saturday. Now while I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m a keen genealogist, I have traced my family back a few generations and for me the joy isn’t in collecting lots of names and dates, it is building a picture of the women (I’m far more interested in them than the men) and their lives through the facts I’ve been able to glean. These weren’t famous or rich women, they were mainly domestic servants who married men of their class and had lots (and lots) of children. My predecessors had a very different life to the one I lead but I like to think that behind the facts they had the drive that led my Grandmother and one of her sisters to take advantage of the times and push their way up the social ladder. In A Time For Silence we meet Sarah who finds the derelict farmhouse her Grandparents lived in and decides to probe what happened to the family in Cwmderwen, Pembrokeshire.
Sarah has her life mapped out in front of her, engaged to be married and having given up on her dreams to be a singer following the death of a close friend. Sarah is under pressure from a pushy mother-in-law to be, and when she takes a trip to Pembrokeshire she does a bit of digging and finds the farmhouse that her Grandparents lived in. Sarah has a romantic view of life and she is horrified to find that her Grandfather John had been killed ‘by person or persons unknown’ following the Second World War. Sarah decides she needs to know more and sets about interrogating her Grandmother’s sister to find out more. But the silence kept for so many years isn’t easily going to be broken by a nosy young woman!
The construct of this book is particularly brilliant because we hear from Gwen about life in the remote farmhouse, about her marriage, her father and sister and her children through her eyes from the time she sets foot in Cwmderwen. We know what happens there while we watch Sarah follow blind alleys and incorrect assumptions in the future. Gwen’s story is easily the most captivating made even more shocking by her understated narrative. A book that so accurately evokes a time eloquently capturing the unwritten rules that governed generations which from a contemporary point of view are almost impossible to comprehend. Sarah has no such compunction eager to knock down the walls of silence that have covered up the wrongful death of John and changed the course of the family as they moved away from Pembrokeshire.
Thorne Moore not only captured the time but the place is also bought vividly to life through her writing, with the little Welsh town and the Spartan farmhouse easily imagined both by the reader and Sarah, as having bought it as a holiday home she works to restore it to its imagined former glory complete with heavy Welsh dresser in the kitchen.
This was such an unexpected read, far more emotionally charged and the story in the past far darker than I’d anticipated but beautifully told, this really did have me captivated. Although I found Sarah’s story slightly less compelling, it is the contrast between the two women’s lives just a couple of generations apart that is so very powerful.