When a character in a film says ‘never’ it’s a sign that the impossible thing will definitely happen before the end. Such is the title of the new novel from Lesley Pearse,You’ll Never See Me Again.
It is 1917 and a storm is thrashing the Devon coast at Hallsands. Betty Wellows is with her shell-shocked husband Martin at his mother’s home, safely up the cliffs. Martin no longer recognises Betty, he is a different man from the fisherman who went to war. Betty is working all hours to support her husband and his mother, putting up with insults, petty grievances, grief for the loss of her husband. As the storm becomes wild and dangerous, Agnes instructs her daughter-in-law to go to her own house beside the beach to rescue her belongings from the flood. Afraid, Betty escapes the older woman’s abuse and runs into the storm. As the waves crash into her home, Betty realises this is her chance to escape Hallsands, Agnes and Martin.
The dramatic opening grabbed my attention and my emotions. Betty is trapped in a life of poverty with a husband who no longer recognises her and a mother-in-law who takes her money and treats her like a skivvy. When she has the chance to escape, Betty takes it. I spent the whole novel chewing over Betty’s dilemma; was she right to run, should she have stayed. Pearse maintains this dilemma throughout the book as Betty goes to Bristol where she changes her name to Mrs Mabel Brook, a widow. You’ll Never See Me Again is the story of how a lone woman in the middle of the Great War is able to strive to improve her lot in life. Mabel suffers setbacks, encounters thieves and frauds, and sheds copious tears. There are moments where her life seems to have reached a settled, easier place; but, of course, more trauma lies ahead.
This is a cleverly plotted book that kept me guessing to the end. Mabel at times is her own worst enemy, and she finds it difficult to accept help. Then she accidentally discovers a talent she never knew she had. When she moves to Dorchester, Dorset, to be a live-in servant/housekeeper for illustrator Miss Clara May, Mabel’s life takes a new turn. Nearby is a prisoner of war camp and one of the inmates, Carsten, looks after Clara’s garden. Carsten and Mabel fall into a state of mutual liking when Spanish flu strikes at the camp; afraid for Carsten’s health, Mabel volunteers as a nurse.
Mabel ran away from Hallsands to be free, but her past travels with her. Finally she must confront her origins in order to move on with her life. Mabel has a strong sense of honesty and justice, which sounds odd given the way she ran away in chapter one. But she is unselfish, never turning away from difficult decisions and transforming herself in a short space of time into a beautiful, assured woman that her neighbours at Hallsands would not recognise.
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YOU’LL NEVER SEE ME AGAIN by @LesleyPearse #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3ZO via @Sandra Danby