Cesca Major’s debut historical novel The Silent Hours takes as its inspiration a truly shocking event which happened during World War II, the anniversary of which fell on 10th June.
Set in wartime France, The Silent Hours follows three people whose lives are bound together, before war tears them apart:
Adeline, a mute who takes refuge in a convent, haunted by memories of her past;
Sebastian, a young Jewish banker whose love for the beautiful Isabelle will change the course of his life dramatically;
Tristin, a nine-year-old boy, whose family moves from Paris to settle in a village that is seemingly untouched by war.
Before I read The Silent Hours, I didn’t know anything about the real-life event around which the novel’s based and I resisted googling it until afterwards so as not to distract from the author’s version of it. I’m so glad I did this because she crafts a real mystery around a woman called Adeline, who we first meet in 1952. She’s in a nunnery, where she has been living for some years. No one can get through to her and her muteness is putting her remaining there in jeopardy. That, together with some memory loss, initially makes it unclear how much she can remember or is choosing to forget about who she is or where she came from, let alone what happened to her. Although both the nuns and the reader can guess at some trauma in her past.
Cesca Major teases out her story by introducing some of the voices from Adeline’s past in Tristan, Isabelle and Sebastien. In between their chapters, Adeline starts to recalls her own fragments. As she pieces her past back together and more is revealed, threads start to come together. Cesca Major skilfully creates and maintains the mystery and tension without it ever seeming forced or drawn out and I experienced a growing sense of foreboding about what was to come. Although this still didn’t prepare me for it when it finally played out. It was one of those moments where no matter what atrocities you’ve read about before, you question how and why humans could even think to go to such a dark place, let alone act on it.
The Silent Hours is the story of ordinary people going about their daily lives as much as is possible in a small town in wartime France until one day the conflict is brought home to them. That this tragic event actually took place left me reeling but it doesn’t detract from how strong a debut this is or how much of an impact The Silent Hours had on me while I was reading it. It’s a moving and evocative novel with a beautifully-revealed mystery at its heart, and filled with a place and characters I came to love and mourn almost as much as they did each other. The Silent Hours will haunt me for a long time to come.
The Silent Hours by Cesca Major is published by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books, and is available in paperback and ebook. My thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy. You can find it at Amazon UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop), Waterstones and Wordery. To find out more about Cesca and her books, check out her Author Website and Blog or you can find her on Twitter.
*GIVEAWAY* : I have one paperback of The Silent Hours to give away. Leave a comment below and the squirrels will pick a winner at the weekend and I’ll send it out to you next week.