books, reviews

Book Review: The French House – Jacquie Bloese

In Nazi-occupied Guernsey, the wrong decision can destroy a life…

Left profoundly deaf after an accident, Émile is no stranger to isolation – or heartbreak. Now, as Nazi planes loom over Guernsey, he senses life is about to change forever.

Trapped in a tense, fearful marriage, Isabelle doesn’t know what has become of Émile and the future she hoped for. But when she glimpses him from the window of the French House, their lives collide once more.

Leutnant Schreiber is more comfortable wielding a paintbrush than a pistol. But he has little choice in the role he is forced to play in the occupying forces – or in his own forbidden desires.

As their paths entwine, loyalties are blurred and dangerous secrets forged. But on an island under occupation, courage can have deadly consequences…

Lyrical, moving and compelling, this is a novel about wanting to hear and learning to listen – to the truths of our own hearts.Perfect for lovers of The Nightingale The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and All the Light We Cannot See .

My thoughts: set in occupied Guernsey, this tale of love, bravery and family is both shocking and rather moving. Deafened in an accident Èmile has returned from Canada to the island of his birth, now married to Letty and with two teenage daughters, he grows vegetables and sells them to French and English markets. When war breaks out he has to find new work, in the garden of Victor Hugo’s former home, growing vegetables for the occupying Germans. This brings him back into contact with his former fianceè Isabelle.

As war rages on the continent and the Germans manipulate the island’s newspaper, Èmile and Isabelle reconnect, and both hold the secrets of a young German officer, discovered enflagrante in Èmile’s shed in the garden.

Risking their lives to avoid detection, they promise to help him, but they’re less careful than they realise, there are many eyes on them – not all of them kind.

I liked Èmile, even as he betrayed his wife by falling back in love with Isabelle, and then risked his neck for a virtual stranger. He suffers so much, from his accident in Canada, to the consequences of his actions in the war, but I don’t think he sets out to be cruel. He’s keenly aware of hurting Letty and his daughters, and tries to stay away from Isabelle, despite never having really stopped loving her.

Maud, his daughter, is also someone chafing against her life. She wants to pursue her musical talents but the war has put paid to that, and she’s determined to crack some of her parents’ secrets. Even if it hurts both them and her. Her younger sister might be the most level headed family member.

I found Isabelle a bit harder to like, she’s been around bullies her whole life and never learnt to stand up for herself. She draws Èmile into her awful marriage and doesn’t realise that she could get him killed, she forgets how genuinely terrible her rotten husband is.

They’re complex characters and it’s a complicated, tense time, the Channel Islands potentially formed a buffer zone for the British mainland and were left to be occupied, terrible things were done to the residents, not just very heavy rationing, but being arrested and deported to Germany for things that weren’t really crimes, including having not been born there.

I found the “good Nazi” plot a little uncomfortable as even if Peter isn’t directly killing anyone, he is still part of the machine of the war. I’m aware that he was probably conscripted and didn’t have much choice but it isn’t exactly a storyline without some concern. I wish this had been addressed in some way, rather than as a plot to bring the two main characters together.

Overall it’s a well written and compelling read, much darker than The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which is lighter hearted. The French House doesn’t shy away from the violence and cruelty of the occupying soldiers, and people’s lives have little levity to spare. It’s a good example of historical fiction about a time not many people know about, most novels about the period focus on either Britain or mainland Europe. I look forward to seeing what the author writes next.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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