Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Saturday, 28 September 2013

The Seeing - Diana Hendry

‘Because how can evil just stop…?’

The novel opens with a prologue that introduces us to Lizzie; she is dreaming and is evidently distressed, and we know that something upsetting has happened. Then we are taken back to when she first met Natalie and her younger brother Philip. Well-behaved thirteen-year-old Lizzie is immediately drawn to the much wilder Natalie when she entered the classroom for the first time:

‘I looked at her and she reached to my heart. She went straight there, as if there was something in her that was in me too, only I hadn’t known it before and though I didn’t know what it was, I knew it was important. I wanted her for my friend like I’d never wanted anything before.’

Soon Lizzie is spending much of her time with her, she feels they are kindred spirits and she has left behind her former best friends Alice and Dottie, becoming more adventurous and venturing ‘off the beaten track’ as her mother calls it. There is a contrast in their home lives; whilst Lizzie’s family is proud to be moving up in the world, Natalie’s home life seems unsettled and somewhat impoverished. It’s the mid 1950s and thoughts of World War II still occupy both Lizzie and Natalie’s minds. Natalie then reveals to Lizzie that Philip has a strange gift, an ability to see, and she is convinced that he can identify ‘left-over Nazis’ from the war who are living amongst them, perhaps waiting to strike, and she believes that together the three of them can be the ones to rid the place of these people, of the evil that still lives on. She seems driven in this by the fact that her father died in the war. What starts as an exciting plan to Lizzie soon becomes something much more terrible.

We also learn of an artist who has visited Norton, the small seaside town which is the setting of the novel, for several years, setting up in his yellow caravan and painting, hoping to forget the painful wartime memories he carries with him. The story has a main first-person narrative from Lizzie’s point of view, but also features letters from the painter, Hugo, to his sister, and then it also includes extracts from Natalie’s diary, so we are able to look at events from several different perspectives and gain insight into their backgrounds. I felt Lizzie was a little na├»ve to be drawn so easily into Natalie’s ways but it’s quite possible that in her innocence she would have just been so taken with her, so intrigued by her and by this powerful new friendship that she was caught up in the situation.

I don’t think I’ve read much fiction before that has looked at the impact and legacy of the effects of war specifically on children, so this is a clever approach for the author to take, and she’s not afraid to explore dark, disturbing thoughts and feelings that the children may have had about the war. This is a well-paced, inventive, dark and mysterious historical tale for young adult readers and I’d certainly say it’s strong and powerful enough for adults too; I found it fascinating, compelling, unsettling and sad, and the cover image is fittingly rather haunting too. 

Published by The Bodley Head

1 comment:

  1. Hmm, sounds like my kind of read though I'm concerned I may find it a little too dark.


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