About the Book
A young woman, Violet, lies in a hospital bed in the closing days of the war. Her pregnancy is over and she is no longer able to conceive. With her husband deployed to the Pacific Front and her friends caught up in transitory love affairs, she must find a way to put herself back together.
In a small, watchful town in the Welsh valleys, another Violet contemplates the fate she shares with her unborn child. Unwed and unwanted, an overseas posting offers a temporary way out. Plunged into the heat and disorder of Naples, her body begins to reveal the responsibility it carries even as she is drawn into the burnished circle of a charismatic new friend, Maggie.
Between these two Violets, sung into being like a babe in a nursery rhyme: a son. As their lives begin to intertwine, a spellbinding story of women’s courage emerges, suffused with power, lyricism and beauty, from an exhilarating new voice in British fiction.
Format: Hardcover (256 pages) Publisher: Granta
Publication date: 3rd February 2022 Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
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Set towards the end of the Second World War, the book tells the story of two women, both called Violet, with the narrative alternating seamlessly between the experiences of the two women.
The first Violet we meet has just suffered a miscarriage and she and her husband, Fred, find themselves without any prospect of having the child they have longed for, and prepared for. ‘And the room upstairs, ready and waiting, the walls still bare. No summer baby, she thought. No noise and mess.’ With Fred posted abroad, Violet has to bear her grief alone and try to pick up the pieces of her life.
The second Violet is in the opposite position, pregnant as the result of a brief relationship. Desperate to hide the fact from her mother and fearful of the response to her unmarried state, she signs up for the ATS and is posted abroad. On the voyage to Italy she meets the vibrant and worldly Maggie and they form an unlikely friendship. Despite Violet going to greater and greater lengths to disguise the fact she is expecting a child, discovery is inevitable.
The way the lives of the two Violets intersect is perhaps not that surprising but still provides a resolution for both of them, and for Fred, a character I loved.
However, the most remarkable aspect of the book, and the feature which sets it apart from other books I’ve read, are the lyrical passages which interrupt the text from time to time. Addressed to ‘Pram Boy’, the unborn son of Violet, these passages are poetic in nature and contain some striking imagery. They chart the progress of the child Violet is carrying from conception, through gestation, to birth. Often the passages use metaphors linked to Violet’s experiences at the time, such as this during her voyage to Italy.
So wait then, stay your course
Decked and berthed and set in the hold, darkly stowed
That’s you, mother-lover, filling her up.
Deep in the womb glow, sweet loving cup.
Finally, Pram Boy makes the journey from being ‘a rounded pod of seed’ in his mother’s womb to the outside world.
Come now, hush
A moment’s respite, release,
Before your un-knit skull crowns to the air
To the burn of a ragged tear
And your Mama a cat panting its litter-runt free
Perhaps the only criticism I can make of the book is that the ‘second Violet’s’ story is more eventful and compelling but this is a minor quibble because Violets is a remarkable debut and I think Alex Hyde is an author to look out for in the future.
I received an advance review copy courtesy of Granta Books via NetGalley.
In three words: Lyrical, intense, imaginative