The Walls We Build by Jules Hayes – generations of relationships and family secrets

The Walls We Build by Jules Hayes 


Friendship, families and secrets – this intensely written book has all of these things and much more. A link with the Churchill family and their residence, Chartwell house is one of the many focus of this engaging book, which has a well written section on wartime London. Ranging from the leafy villages of Kent, through the mining towns of Nottinghamshire to the streets of bombed out London, this frequently moving story tells the story of three friends who keep secrets for decades. Hilda, Florence and Frank met as school children in 1928 and kept up connections until the death of two of them in 2002 when their secrets begin to emerge. Some of the lives which are affected are only visible when a grandson investigates in the twenty first century, as he discovers the echoes of a disturbed family. This intricately written novel is a powerful picture of how lives and fates can intertwine, and how secrets can change lives. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this complex yet very human book.


When Frank, Hilda and Florence are young adults, Hilda suddenly has a baby girl, Anna. Frank wants to be a father to the little girl, so despite his undoubted attraction to Florence, he marries the beautiful but challenging Hilda. Both Florence and Frank have worked with the Churchill family at Chartwell, and they find themselves linked to the unique family. An angry sister and a sense of history repeating itself dominate this novel in which interdependent generations and relationships present a confusing picture.


When his grandmother dies in 2002, Richard, Frank’s grandson, makes discoveries about his family that shape his perception of his beloved grandfather. Building walls is a theme of this novel, both solid brick walls and between people. The fate of some of the characters shows what could happen to people, especially women, throughout the twentieth century. The conformity of marriage, the choice of women’s work, the treatment of mental health are all examined in this book, as affecting real people. The amount of research is formidable; based on real people such as Mary Soames, as well as creating very realistic people who would have been present in some ways. The research, however, never impedes the story or the realism of the people which is well expressed in the dialogue. The setting, the buildings, the bombed houses are all so well described throughout the novel that it becomes a very vivid story.


My favourite character is undoubtedly Florence whose clear sight and determination faces many challenges. The wartime section is particularly effective, and the glimpses of the Churchill family members are well handled. This is a novel with a great sense of place and time, from the description of the clothes, the vehicles and people’s expectations. This is a book with a great deal to recommend it, with an absorbing narrative and some excellent character studies. Its range through families and friends over at least three generations is remarkable, and I really found this to be a worthwhile read. 


I hope that wherever to find yourselves at the moment is safe and comfortable, and that you have got the necessities of life to hand. If you have read this far I imagine you have more than a passing interest in books, so I hope you have plenty of those to read. With libraries closed that may mean that your access to new books is limited. but if you are an ebook reader (I’m not) all classic novels are very cheap or free.  I have many dozens of physical books so I should be alright – for a while! I hope to keep reviewing most days if not everyday, and I have posted at least 700 reviews, so plenty to read here…