It’s about time that I reviewed another title from Persephone Books. I haven’t found one yet that I didn’t like. Although, I must admit, that I wasn’t sure if I would make it through this one because the beginning is so incredibly sad.
Hilary Wainwright returns to France after World War II in order to find his lost infant son. He has only met his son once, on the day he was born, and so he has very little information to go on to track him down. Hilary’s wife, Lisa, was living in Paris during the war and working for the resistance when the Nazis discovered her secret operations and arrested her. Just before she is arrested, she passes off her baby to a family friend named Jean whom she hopes will be able to keep him safe. But Jean is also arrested by the Nazis and she, too, has to relinquish the child before she is caught. Jean’s fiancé, Pierre, is the only one who can help Hilary track down his son with the few clues that Jean left behind.
Hilary is so devastated by Lisa’s horrible and tragic death; she was the love of his life and his entire world and after the war he is not sure that he even wants to find his son. To a lot of us this does not seem to make any sense. Hilary’s son is a part of or an extension of his love with Lisa, but Hilary is afraid of more emotional turmoil if he fails to find his missing boy. Hilary doesn’t want to open his heart again only to experience disappointment or hurt again.
Hilary’s search for his son leads him to an orphanage in a small town in France. The scenes of the pathetic and abandoned children in the orphanage are heart wrenching. When Hilary meets little Jean, the child whom they suspect is his son, Hilary is hesitant to become attached to the child for fear that he will experience another crippling emotional loss. Hilary notices that Jean does not have any gloves and so he buys him a small pair of red gloves. This is one of the most emotional scenes in the book because, although the gloves are too small for Jean, he insists on keeping them because he has never had such a nice gift before.
The end of the book deals with Hilary’s decision on whether or not to accept this son as his own. For a while he even distracts himself from making a decision by entertaining a floozy he meets at his hotel. The boy resembles Jean in a cursory way and we have to remember that there aren’t any DNA tests in the 1940’s. Jean seems to want an obvious sign from the heavens pointing to the fact that this is his son. It was my wish, though, that regardless of whether or not Jean was his biological son, that he would take pity on this small, abandoned boy anyway and decide it was worth opening up his heart again.
Lanksi was to a prominent family of Jewish intellectuals: Neville Laski was her father, Moses Gaster her grandfather, and socialist thinker Harold Laski her uncle. She was educated at Lady Barn House School and St Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith. After a stint in fashion, she read English at Oxford, then married publisher John Howard, and worked in journalism. She began writing once her son and daughter were born.
A well-known critic as well as a novelist, she wrote books on Jane Austen and George Eliot. Ecstasy (1962) explored intense experiences, and Everyday Ecstasy (1974) their social effects. Her distinctive voice was often heard on the radio on The Brains Trust and The Critics; and she submitted a large number of illustrative quotations to the Oxford English Dictionary.
An avowed atheist, she was also a keen supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Her play, The Offshore Island, is about nuclear warfare.