Towards the Vanishing Point by Jan Turk Petrie
The power of friendship is often the subject of novels; rarely is it so wrapped up in the plot that it powers much of the believable tension throughout the book. Beginning in 1938 with two small girls forming a friendship that will last for many years, it is a dominant theme which runs through a book with immense atmosphere and an appreciation for setting that makes it an excellent read. The author has created characters who linger in the mind in all their nuances and behaviour. Not that they are fixed; the wartime setting affects the relationships of many young people in terms of love and loss. Another theme is domestic violence, proving that it is not only a modern problem but that it has afflicted women and men for many years. This novel is a strong witness to the loyalty of friends in challenging times, and the way that families affect relationships in a small area. Beautifully descriptive and intense, this is a well paced and well written book. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this excellent historical novel.
The book is largely set in the North of England, where two small girls are partners in a three legged race. Stella is determined to win, but Lily eventually realises that winning is important, learning from her more confident friend. They discover a book which will shade their view of relationships for years; growing up is very much presented as a time of learning. As the bombs fall in 1941, the slightly older Lily hears gossip about women and babies which shocks and leaves her with a view of women’s life. Another scene is later in the war when the two young women meet airmen who are actually fighting in the battles which were so important to the country, with two different outcomes. Stella’s life is transformed by that night, leaving her with decisions and responsibility that she has never previously imagined. Lily’s meeting will end differently, and also change her life for a long time.
As the two young women’s families leave them with different circumstances, the story of Will Bagshaw emerges. His second wife has just died in slightly suspicious circumstances, and he soon fixes his attention on Lily, who has felt left out. This meeting and subsequent events tests the friendship between the young women, but what will be the outcome of this complex situation?
This is a mature book which looks carefully at the variability of relationships against a background of war and peace, with questions of love in various forms. Women’s lives are thoughtfully examined, as they respond to the problems of life in a society which has been permanently changed by war. The buildings, the houses that the people live in, are brilliantly described, the ways that people live respectable lives in the shadow of change, are so well realised. This is a novel of people in a very detailed way, but also of place. The particular events of the book, the increase of tension, the way the action evolves, only takes place because of the nature of the houses, the way people live, and the build up to the suspenseful ending. I enjoyed the style and plot of this book, a slow burner, with a pace that allows for the development of character. A remarkable book which has a fine plot, it is recommended to many fans of historical fiction set in the mid twentieth century.
This is a fairly quick read, if only because the suspense towards the end of the book is terrific. Staying in at the moment means I am tackling a lot of books, but not necessarily finishing them! Mind you, “The Other Bennett Sister” by Janice Hadlow is so big and so carefully written that it takes a long time to read, but it is the perfect dependable distraction. I do have rather a soft spot for Pride and Prejudice sequels and associated books, and I am enjoying it, but so far no major revelations!