In 1920, William and Edward arrive in Margate, Edward to play piano for the summer season at the Winter Gardens. William is his manager. Both men carry the emotional scars of their time on the battlefields of the First World War and Edward has spent many months being put back together physically, following his appalling injuries. He wears a tin mask over the missing part of his face and he and William frequently joke about painting the benches in the seaside town blue.
Evelyn has also recently arrived in the town, to assist the younger wife of her clergyman-father’s oldest friend in their tea shop before the birth of Alice’s baby. Evelyn’s evening job is in the cloakroom at the Winter Gardens where she quickly becomes close friends with Catherine, who works in the ticket office.
The four of them become entwined in each other’s lives. Every character is utterly believable and the townscape and landscape of Margate, as well as the hop fields of Kent and the interiors of the various guest houses, musical venues and tea shops – and the moving descriptions of the amassed crowds in London, welcoming the coffin of The Unknown Soldier – are evoked crystal-clear in my mind as I read.
The scene at the very beginning of the book is set twenty years after the main narrative, and the final scene of the book is set one year after that, and it made me want to cry!
An informative, well-written and poignant story of the devastation left behind by war. From my point of view, I would only have wanted to increase the pace of the writing in some places, as I sometimes felt a scene would be cut off at a crucial point and a new scene begun, during which the reader was given a summing-up of what had happened in the last one. In some ways, though, this is appropriate to the detachment from strong emotions indicative of people’s behaviour at the time.
Recommended for lovers of historical fiction about the emotional and social consequences of war.