#BookReview All The Broken Places by John Boyne

All The Broken PlacesAbout the Book

1946. Three years after a cataclysmic event which tore their lives apart, a mother and daughter flee Poland for Paris, shame, and fear at their heels, not knowing how hard it is to escape your past.

Nearly eighty years later, Gretel Fernsby lives a life that is a far cry from her traumatic childhood. When a couple moves into the flat below her in her London mansion block, it should be nothing more than a momentary inconvenience. However, the appearance of their nine-year-old son Henry brings back memories she would rather forget.

Faced with a choice between her own safety and his, Gretel is taken back to a similar crossroads she encountered long ago. Back then, her complicity dishonoured her life, but to interfere now could risk revealing the secrets she has spent a lifetime protecting.

Format: Hardback (384 pages)                Publisher: Doubleday
Publication date: 15th September 2022 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

I have the feeling I may be one of the few people in the world who has not read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas or seen the film adaptation. I wondered if this would effect my appreciation of this, its sequel; the answer is a definite no. In fact All The Broken Places may be one of the most memorable and thought-provoking novels I read this year. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve found it so difficult to write a review that will do it justice. (I’m still not sure I have.)

Moving between past and present, we gradually learn about Gretel’s childhood and the impact her proximity to the horrific events of the Holocaust has had on her. Having had an early taste of what her identity becoming known might result in, the majority of Gretel’s life has been spent hiding her past, adopting new identities when disclosure is threatened, moving to new places and being in a constant state of watchfulness.

In addition, she has lived with a constant sense of guilt – at the dreadful things that took place ‘on the other side of the fence’ and her part in the death of a loved one.  ‘Guilt was what kept you awake in the middle of the night or, if you managed to sleep, poisoned your dreams. Guilt intruded upon any happy moments, whispering in your ear that you had no right to pleasure. Guilt followed you down streets, interrupting the most mundane moments with remembrances of days and hours when you could have done something to prevent tragedy but chose to do nothing.’ Managing those feelings of guilt has meant repressing unwelcome memories. There are photographs Gretel can’t bear to look at, a location she refers to only as ‘that other place’, a name she can’t bear to say.

There are a number of occasions on which Gretel is challenged about her defence that she was ‘just a child’ and had no knowledge of what was taking place. And, that even if it was true, she did nothing after the war to help bring the perpetrators to justice. In fact that she took deliberate steps to avoid this. When, soon after the end of the war, she is presented with indisputable evidence of what occurred and how close she was to that cruelty, the effect on her is so unbearable it results in a catastrophic act and the destruction of a relationship.

In the book there are not just broken places but broken people too. Gretel, of course, but also her mother, and Gretel’s new neighbour Madelyn.

There are moments of light amongst the darkness. For example, Gretel’s tender relationship with her vulnerable neighbour, Heidi, and the way she bonds with young Henry. And Edgar, Gretel’s late husband, whom we meet at the very beginning of their relationship, is a wonderful model of devotion, understanding and acceptance.

All the Broken Places is an unsparing exploration of how the sins of the past can weigh on individuals and the burden of complicity. ‘By doing nothing, you did everything. By taking no responsibility, you bear all responsibility.’ The book poses some difficult questions. If someone you love commits terrible acts is it right to still love them? Can anything you do ever make up for the sins of others? Is taking one life to save another justified?

I’m not sure the actions Gretel takes at the end of the book represent sufficient reparation given the scale of the evil that occurred in ‘that other place’ but I got the sense Gretel thought they did and she viewed the consequences of her actions as a kind of justice, as the punishment she deserved.

In his afterword, the author states his belief that, for all the mistakes in her life and her complicity in evil, Gretel’s story is still worth telling but it’s up to the reader to decide if it’s worth reading.  My conclusion is an unequivocal yes.

I received an advance digital copy courtesy of Doubleday via NetGalley.

In three words: Powerful, moving, thought-provoking

John BoyneAbout the Author

John Boyne is the author of thirteen novels for adults, six for younger readers and a collection of short stories. His 2006 novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas has sold more than 11 million copies worldwide and has been adapted for cinema, theatre, ballet and opera. His many international bestsellers include The Heart’s Invisible Furies and A Ladder to the Sky. He has won three Irish Book Awards, along with a host of other international literary prizes. His novels are published in over fifty languages. (Photo: Goodreads author page)

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#BlogTour #BookReview The House at Helygen by Victoria Hawthorne

The House at Helygen Blog Tour PosterWelcome to the final day of the blog tour for The House at Helygen by Victoria Hawthorne. My thanks to Katya at Quercus for inviting me to take part and for my review copy. You can read my thoughts on the book, which was published on 18th August, below.

The House at HelygenAbout the Book

2019. When Henry Fox is found dead in his ancestral home in Cornwall, the police rule it a suicide, but his pregnant wife, Josie, believes it was murder. Desperate to make sense of Henry’s death she embarks on a quest to learn the truth, all under the watchful eyes of Henry’s overbearing mother. Josie soon finds herself wrestling against the dark history of Helygen House and ghosts from the past that refuse to stay buried.

1881. New bride Eliza arrives at Helygen House with high hopes for her marriage. Yet when she meets her new mother-in-law, an icy and forbidding woman, her dreams of a new life are dashed. And when Eliza starts to hear voices in the walls of the house, she begins to fear for her sanity and her life.

Can Josie piece together the past to make sense of her present, or will the secrets of Helygen House and its inhabitants forever remain a mystery?

Format: Paperback (368 pages)        Publisher: Quercus
Publication date: 18th August 2022 Genre: Historical Fiction, Dual Time

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My Review

Moving between past and present, The House at Helygen starts off mysterious, progresses to sinister and concludes as full-on melodrama.  If you’re looking for a book with the vibes of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca or Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, you’re in the right place. The present day Helygen House even has a west wing previously destroyed by fire. And if you were looking for a modern day equivalent of Rebecca‘s Mrs Danvers then look no further than Josie’s mother-in-law, Alice, who in her habits and attitudes seems a woman ‘from another time entirely… who doesn’t live in the modern world at all’, closely followed by Eliza’s mother-in-law, Harriet, in the 19th century story.

Told from the point of view of two women, separated by over a century but who share many of the same experiences, plus the voice of a third woman through means of a journal, that narrative device beloved of historical novelists, The House at Helygen contains everything you might want from a historical suspense novel.

The author creates a brooding sense of menace which gradually builds as the house reveals it secrets and the dark past of the families who have occupied it. A silhouette glimpsed in a doorway, an unexplained cry in the night, a shadowy figure under a willow tree (very The Turn of the Screw), something scratching against a window ‘like fingers clawing to get in’.  And then there’s the disquieting atmosphere of some of the unused rooms of Helygen House where past and present seem separated by a mere whisper. Josie’s friend, Flick, sums it up well. ‘It just feels weird in here. Like something isn’t quite right. Like the air has been disturbed, and we’re trespassing. Like we shouldn’t be in here at all.’

The House at Helygen is a skilfully crafted story of obsession, secrets and what might be a grim inheritance.

In three words: Atmospheric, suspenseful, intricate

Try something similar: A Woman Made of Snow by Elisabeth Gifford

Victoria HawthorneAbout the Author

Vikki Patis is the bestselling author of psychological thrillers In the Dark (2021), The Wake (2020), Girl, Lost (2020), The Girl Across the Street (2019), and The Diary (2018). Girl, Lost, a top 100 bestseller on Amazon, was later longlisted for the Not the Booker Prize 2020. Her latest thriller, Return to Blackwater House, was published in March 2022 by Hodder & Stoughton.

She is represented by Emily Glenister at DHH Literary Agency and also writes historical fiction as Victoria Hawthorne. Her first historical suspense novel, The House at Helygen, was published in April 2022 by Quercus, with another to follow in 2023.

Vikki has also written articles for numerous publications. After being diagnosed with Perthes disease as a child, fibromyalgia in 2016 and coeliac disease in 2018, she tries to raise awareness of living with a chronic illness through her writing, and includes a diverse range of characters in her fiction. She lives in Scotland with her wife, two wild golden retrievers, and an even wilder cat.

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