I needed an escapist read, something not too heavy or intricate, after recently finishing both “A Tale of Two Cities” and “The Way We Live Now!” Rachel Hore has penned several, so I picked up “A Gathering Storm” because of 1. the cover, 2. the setting — who can resist England’s oh-so-romantic Cornwall? and 3. the time period — WW2.
I mostly enjoyed this at-times-light-at-times dark novel, and it moved quickly for me. My sympathy quickly meshed with Beatrice, who, perhaps because of the lack of parental affirmation in her life, learns to gain acceptance through nurturing others (even to the detriment of her own personal need). Although at times Bea could rightly be accused of being ‘wishy-washy’, as events around her start to pick up and the war begins, her character growth becomes clear to the reader.
By the culmination of the novel, Beatrice has more than ‘come into her own’. The author cleverly illustrates the progression of Beatrice’s personality. Beatrice, perhaps because of her background, has learned to cope with what life hands out to her. Although her struggles are grim and bitter, destined to turn even those most resilient into bitter and antagonistic souls, Beatrice deals with them seemingly without harboring resentment or bitterness.
Beatrice Marlow is the child of a French mother and English father, growing up in Cornwall. She becomes friends with the Wincanton family and her story becomes enmeshed with theirs throughout the pre-war and war years in England.
I think I would have appreciated Bea’s story more had the author more thoroughly developed some of the characters in the book . The reader is left to himself to discover the reasons behind her parent’s lack of interest in Bea’s life. For a long time Beatrice keeps secret her engagement and later, the news of the birth of her baby a secret. There seems to be a lack of communication between Bea and her parents even though she is living in London during the Blitz.
Rafe Ashton, who Bea falls so irrevocably in love with, is also a mysterious character whose motivations and personality seem to be mostly hidden from the reader. Until thwarted in love himself, he fails to return Bea’s consuming romantic interest, and yet his character is prominent in the novel.
And there is selfish, self-centered, starved-for-affection Angie. (Is Bea drawn to those who will ultimately use and hurt her?) Why does Bea not stand up for herself? why doesn’t she confront Angie who all too obviously is using Rafe for attention? The reader however will find that Beatrice does change through the events of the war as she finds her place in life and develops into a sturdy, self-sufficient and stalwart individual. However it is not until Bea reaches her eighties that she finds the sympathy and understanding for her former-best-friend Angie.
I had to admire the way the author draws attention to the heroism and sheer guts of those who endured London bombings, faulty spy systems, and their rationalization that they ‘must do something’.
“Outside in Trafalgar Square, clouds raced across the sky and a cold wind blew. An old man with a crooked back swept the pavement with slow, awkward movements, the wind whipping up eddies of dust, so her eyes began to smart. No one showed any surprise these days at a woman weeping in the street.
‘Cheer up, love,’ said a skinny old woman in a ragged black dress and headscarf, who was sitting on the steps feeding the pigeons. ‘There’s them with troubles worse than ours.’
I enjoyed reading this novel, particularly because of the time period. Who cannot be fascinated with the events of World War 2? It was such an incredible period of history. However I do think I would have admired this novel more had the author not included a dual story which served simply to distract me from the main story. I know that is a popular literary device especially now, but in this book it just didn’t work for me.
I was relieved to read that Beatrice does survive her stint in the Resistance (even though so many did not), and I must confess I had to stay up well after midnight to find out what would happen to her!