The Hidden Palace by Dinah Jefferies
1923 and 1944. Two time periods, two women facing challenges and circumstances beyond their control. In this superbly constructed novel, the two timelines weave in and out of each other, as the young women discover that not everyone can be trusted, and some events are beyond their control. Dinah Jefferies has written a powerful book about betrayals and secrets that mean that decisions must be made. Rosalie Delacroix has fled from Paris in 1923, leaving no clues as to where she has gone, and has tried to make a new life. In 1944, Florence Baudin has faced the Occupation of France and escaped, risking her life, only to discover a challenge from her mother which seems impossible to meet.
The settings of these two women’s stories are very different, and very well introduced and maintained. In the earlier story the streets of Paris almost immediately give way to the colours, sights and smells of Malta, a natural paradise with lurking dangers, a place of beautiful buildings and squalor within a short distance of each other.
Florence’s new life begins in Devon, in an almost an impossibly comforting cottage, but it is soon revealed as a place of secrets. The first chapter opens with a journey on a crowded train, as Florence and her companion Jack are about to reach his cottage home. They have travelled together through the dangers of Occupied France and beyond to make their way to this point; it seems that Jack was a British agent in France while Florence has undergone a traumatic experience and needed to leave her sisters Elise and Helene behind. Florence and Jack are not a couple, and it seems that Florence’s mother Claudette wants to see Florence at her own cottage as soon as possible. When Florence arrives, however, Claudette is not exactly welcoming, especially when Florence explains what is going on in France with her sisters and why she was in greater danger. Claudette, it seems, wants Florence to find her sister Rosalie as a matter of urgency, but the only clue to her whereabouts is a Maltese cross. This is August 1944, and there is no possibility of travel, but Claudette is adamant.
The story then moves to Paris in 1923. Rosalie is desperate to find excitement and dance, rather than settle to a suitable marriage as her parents’ demand. A particular incident makes her decide to flee the city, her parents and break contact with her married sister Claudette, who has three daughters. She travels to Malta having found an advertisement suggesting they require nightclub dancers. She is impressed with the island, but soon discovers that some girls are deeply unhappy to be there. She changes her name and discovers that some friends represent the wealth and difference to be found on the island. Mysteries and secrets seem to be dangerous, and Rosalie must decide what to do.
This novel is far more than a straightforward wartime saga as it takes in more than one time period and various settings. It is the second in a series following “The Daughters of War” but as I have not read that book, I can confirm that it works a standalone. The two main female characters in this book are shown as resourceful and determined, and face severe challenges in so many ways, which provides the main plot of the novel in a convincing way. This is a novel which is difficult to put down once begun, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this powerful combined story.