Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Review: The Faithful by Juliet West

I loved the cover of this book and the plot intrigued me. I don't read many books set in the 1930s and it's a period that I don't know much about. I had heard of Oswald Mosley and the blackshirts, and I thought it an interesting choice of background for a novel, so I couldn't wait to read the book.

The story starts in West Sussex in 1935. Sixteen year old Hazel has been mainly left on her own for the summer with just the family housekeeper for company. Lots of opportunity for mischief! Her father has gone to live and work in Paris with his mistress, and her mother keeps flitting off to London with her married lover. Hazel's family are well-to-do and they live in a big house with only an old flint wall dividing their garden from the beach. When Hazel sees a group of people in uniform set up camp on the beach she is fascinated. These are Oswald Mosley's 'blackshirts', the British Union of Fascists, and when Hazel sees them parade through the town she thinks they are very glamorous.

Tom, a young working class lad from Lewisham, feels differently. He is at the camp with his parents, who are attracted to Oswald Mosley's party because of the apparent anti-war stance, but he is already starting to question the blackshirts' politics. And then he meets Hazel.

The Faithful is a coming-of-age story, about two young people who make choices and then have to live with the consequences of their actions. Because the characters were so engaging I found their story completely gripping. It is very well written and I loved all the descriptions of Sussex at the height of summer and the period detail about the 1930s - although I did find myself wincing every time Hazel lit up yet another cigarette! From my 21st century viewpoint, I also found it hard to understand why Hazel continued her association with the blackshirts after she realised exactly what they stood for. But I could appreciate she had a good reason, which I won't go into because of spoilers.

The story is divided into three parts. Part one ends just before a pivotal event, and part two continues a year after that event. It was not hard to guess what that event was, and I would have preferred to have read about it as it happened, rather than have it hinted at later in the story.

Beside Hazel and Tom, the other viewpoints are Hazel's rather selfish mother Francine, bitterly seeing her youth slipping away from her and, by contrast, Tom's mother Bea, who would do anything to protect her son. They are both flawed characters, which I always find interesting and, like their offspring, they both made choices that would affect the rest of their lives. I did feel that Francine's story could have been developed a bit more, and there were a few other issues/questions I'd have liked to have seen resolved at the end.

But I did really enjoy reading The Faithful and would certainly recommend it to anyone who loves reading historical fiction. It would probably appeal to fans of family sagas too. I'm planning on lending my copy to my mother, who loves this kind of thing - but she had better let me have it back!

Thank you to Mantle/Pan Macmillan for providing me with an advance review copy of this book in return for an honest review.

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