Thursday, July 21, 2011

Friday First Sentence & 56, plus The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison - Review

This melancholic novel of wartime London and Yorkshire begins three times.  Is this a trend in contemporary fiction?  It occurred in Robin Yocum's Favorite Sons (last week's Friday review) too. 

So here they are from The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison:

May 1964
My dearest,
   Of all the many people we meet in a lifetime, it is strange that so many of us find ourselves in thrall to one particular person.

From Baxter's Guide to the Historic Houses of England (2007)
   Any visitor travelling north from York will pass through a flat vale of farmland before rising steeply onto the wide upland plateau of the North Yorkshire Moors.

London, 31 August 1939
   There was a hint of afternoon sunshine as Anna Sands and her mother, Roberta, stepped off their bus into Kensington High Street.

The first opens a letter from one of our four main characters, Thomas Ashton, to the love of his life.
The second begins the entry describing Ashton Park, the aging mansion that becomes a home for children evacuated from London during WWII, our main setting.
The third opens the narrative by introducing us to our protagonist, Anna, as they take one last shopping trip in preparation for Anna's departure to Ashton Park.

And then from page 56 (see below for a link to that blog hop and one for the book beginnings as well), it's exposition from Thomas's perspective about his family and his childhood growing up at Ashton Park:
At the center of any room stood his parents.  He would never forget his mother in blue-shadowed silk, sweeping into the dining room on his father's arm, truly beautiful.
To sum up: This impressive first novel - shortlisted for the Orange Prize even - traces the lives of Anna and Roberta, as well as Thomas and his wife, Elizabeth Ashton, primarily during the war years.  Moodily atmospheric and increasingly melancholy, we're privy to their inner lives (multiple third person perspective) as those lives intersect and diverge, playing again and again on novelist Alison's title theme.  Inner desires, memories, dreams, and resentments shift and collide with outward actions and appearances, maintaining a tension born partly of the extremities of war and partly of the particular natures of our characters.

My opinion:  If you favor books with this setting, you'll find Alison's descriptions of York and the Ashton mansion evocative, often even magical, in a darkly The Secret Garden sort of way.  As a coming of age tale for Anna, the plot kept my interest and her perspective - all the confusion, delight, and drama of a child's interior life - offered a lovely counterpoint to Thomas's careful reflections and both Elizabeth's and Roberta's yearnings.  As the story of adult relationships slipping into crisis, it also rang true - at least for these particular characters.  Add to their voices and passions Alison's regular excerpts of popular songs of the period and marvelous poems that provide both thematic resonance and plot movement, and you've got yourself a novel.

Now that I describe it, I'm feeling that one could liken the whole book to a sonata of sorts, with multiple voicings in various tones shifting and eliding into one multi-part stream of sound and sense.  If that sounds like an experience you'd favor, then by all means pick up a copy of The Very Thought of You.  (****/5)

Or, if you're ready to enjoy a few more 'Book Beginnings' and 'Friday 56' peeks at at other readers' current books, go ahead and hop to A Few More Pages and Freda's Voice

MFB,
L

11 comments:

Anne Bennett said...

You said: "Now that I describe it, I'm feeling that one could liken the whole book to a sonata of sorts, with multiple voicings in various tones shifting and eliding into one multi-part stream of sound and sense."

Anything that makes literature come alive as music sounds good to me. I have wondered about this book and now I know I will read it. Thanks

SquirrelQueen said...

I have been seeing this book in various places but have not taken the time to look more closely. After reading the excerpts and your review it sounds very interesting.

Creations by Laurel-Rain Snow said...

Oh, I do love books that show us the world in which the characters live in a vivid way...this one sounds like it does just that.

Here's MY FRIDAY MEMES POST

Tea said...

I would like to read this one too. Not familiar with the author..

Irene said...

Sounds very good.

fredamans said...

Sounds like a wonderfully written book. Thanks for participating!

Sherrie said...

Hi!
Sounds intriguing. I'll have to check into this one. Have a great day!

Sherrie
Just Books

Between The Lines said...

I like the cover and the setting, but fear that it may be a bit too confusing for me. Nevertheless, it's one I would consider, so thanks for sharing!

Laurie said...

Anne - It's a gently-paced but tonal piece, really, and offres a true escape into these characters' minds and the time period.
SQ - It is!
Laurel-Rain - Yes, you put it perfectly.
All - It was cleanly written, and evocative.
BTL - The book didn't strike me as confusing, even with the multiple perspectives. In contrast, there's another novel I'm reading this morning in which the author attempts multiple points-of-view with little success: because no one perspective is held for long and he introduces so many characters, frustration and confusion results. This wasn't the case for me with TVTOY, so you might find it worthwhile to read a few pages at your local bookstore to see if you like it...

Anne Bennett said...

Thanks for visiting my blog. I appreciate your kind comments. I went camping over the week-end so I am just getting back to respond to participants of the Friday blog hops.

I am also hosting a first-ever blogoversary give-a-way. Please visit my blog and participate. Thanks!

http://headfullofbooks.blogspot.com/2011/07/blogoversary-giveaway-week-day-1.html

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

I just finished it last night and thought overall it was quite good. Loved especially getting into the mind of Anna when she was a little girl.

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