Life can turn on a sixpence and that’s what happens to Maddie and her two small daughters in the Blitz. One Moonlit Night by Rachel Hore doesn’t start with a glimpse of the main character’s ordinary life before the change happens. It starts with a shock… a family made homeless by a bomb. Alone in the midst of chaos, her husband Philip has been missing for ten months since the British army’s retreat from Dunkirk, Maddie takes Sarah and Alice to Knyghton in Norfolk to stay with Philip’s elderly Aunt Gussie. Maddie is caught in limbo, unable to grieve for Philip, unable to make decisions, not accepting his probable death, while living in an isolated country house – where Philip spent his childhood – which is the focus of long-held rumour and superstition in the nearby village.
Trying to make a living as a book illustrator, Maddie is seldom without a pencil and paper. But when she draws the face of an unfamiliar young girl, enigmatic, mysterious, she doesn’t know where her inspiration came from. Instinctively she keeps her drawing secret, not wanting to upset the fragile atmosphere at Knyghton. A secret is being kept, by Aunt Gussie, Philip’s cousin Lyle who runs the Knyghton farm, by family retainers, the Fleggs, and Maddie is sure it surrounds this mysterious young woman.
Bookended by a Prologue and Epilogue both set in 1977, Hore tells the stories of Maddie and Philip during World War Two with a flashback to their meeting in 1934. Many of the book’s themes are established in this pre-war section. Wild animals, painted by Maddie, but shot by Philip; children raised while parents are absent; the sharing of some secrets and the keeping of others. It is a complex, emotional story as Maddie, who flees to Knyghton seeking sanctuary instead finds unexplained silences, whispers and rumours she fears are aimed at Philip. Meanwhile Philip, having survived a massacre of British troops by the German army, attempts to find a way home. Philip’s sections are tense, forlorn and at times hopeless, a vivid portrayal of soldiers fleeing through Occupied and Vichy France.
This is a slow-burning story which rewards the reader’s perseverance as tension in the final third picks up and Maddie finally finds some answers. It’s a book which rewards further reading as layers of information, missed on first reading, become significant.
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