1920: Britain is trying to forget the Great War. Clementine, who nursed at the front and suffered losses, must bury the past. Then she meets Vincent, an opportunistic veteran whose damage goes much deeper than the painted tin mask he wears. Their deadly relationship will career towards a dark and haunting resolution.
Lesley Glaister is a fiction writer, poet, playwright and teacher of writing. She has published fourteen adult novels, the first of a YA trilogy and numerous short stories. She received both a Somerset Maugham and a Betty Trask award for Honour Thy Father (1990), and has won or been listed for several literary prizes for her other work. She has three adult sons and lives in Edinburgh (with frequent sojourns to Orkney) with husband Andrew Greig. She teaches creative writing at the University of St Andrews and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
My thoughts: my great-grandmother didn’t leave a lot of her personal history to us – she had a stroke when my mum was very young and couldn’t speak, and when she died Pop (my great-grandfather) burnt all her photos and documents. But from what little we do know, she, Eliza Jane Redhead, was a WWI nurse, like Clementine in this book. It formed an instant connection for me. I have no idea what she saw or experienced, but I can’t imagine any of it was pleasant and like Clementine, she had to live with those terrible memories forever.
My mum is a nurse, it seems caring for people runs in the blood. She joined the Junior Red Cross and then went off at 17 to train in the NHS, where she’s worked for over 40 years. But Clem was expected to get married and have babies and leave the medicine to her doctor husband, the stuffed shirt Dennis (I hated him, I wish she’d escaped to Canada with the lovely Powell, I bet he wouldn’t be so controlling and annoying).
But she meets Vince, and he’s a chancer and a half. He wants so much more than his small life. The recipient of one of the tin masks made and painted to hide facial injuries – in his case a lost eye as well, it made me think of Pat Barker’s Toby’s Room where art students from the Slade are painting these faces.
Indeed that’s what Clem wants to do – paint him. But he sees in her an opportunity and it all leads down a dark path to tragedy. This book totally gripped me and pulled me along with it, much as Vince takes Clem along with him. I found myself muttering “don’t do it Clem, don’t do it” at times and was furious at Vince’s audacity and casual cruelty, but he didn’t deserve his end, despite what he did. Beautifully written, this is a book that will be hanging out in my mind for a while.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.