Eliza Graham is one of those authors we simply don’t hear enough about in my opinion as each and every one of her historical novels is not only a joy to read they also have a real feeling of authenticity about them no doubt from the careful research that she undertakes.
The One I Was is split between the past and the present. In the present Rosamund Hunter is returning to a house she knows from years ago, Fairfleet. Rosamund has great memories of the old house but she is also wary of letting her potential employer know that she knows the place.
So what job is Rosamund applying for? A nurse for a man dying of cancer who wants to remain in his own home. There is a housekeeper and the potential for other medical professionals to come on board and help as the patient’s condition worsens and it seems like she’s a good fit for the household.
Her patient is Benny Gault. He is a successful man, one who originally arrived in England as part of the kindertransport in 1938 when he was just eleven-years-old. Benny lived at Fairfleet as it was home cum school for him and a few other boys who made the journey and were adopted by Lord and Lady Dorner.
The story is told in the main in the present tense by Rosamund and in the past by Benny and there are some distressing scenes as might be expected given the nature of the job Rosamund has undertaken.
That said, this aspect is softly done with enough ‘truth’ that it doesn’t feel whitewashed but not so raw that it becomes far too distressing to read. This isn’t a straight dual time-line novel as the scenes that we see are those throughout Benny’s life and we are aware of the connection between our two main protagonists from the off.
There are a number of strands to the story, the most poignant of all is that Benny remembers his friend Rudi Lange as he was when he last saw him in a secluded area shortly before he made the trip that was to change his life beyond belief.
I have to admit that I preferred Benny’s story but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of drama for Rosamund, particularly when an unwanted visitor comes to call at Fairfleet.
The author tackles this aspect of the war without drama, one of the reasons why I enjoy her books so much. The characters don’t tend to have an overblown sense of their own importance and so I find their stories all the more believable. Harriet Dorner flies planes, a female pilot would surely have had plenty to boast about but she doesn’t although her excitement comes through it does so without being muddied by any feeling that she’s boasting.
There are some moral questions that are posed within the book and although some of the reveals weren’t the surprise that they may have been intended to be, that didn’t stop me enjoying the journey through the years.