I finished this gem of a book last night. It’s lovely, but incredibly sad. I didn’t cry (I was afraid it might get me, but my heart of stone prevailed). However, it was touch-and-go there at parts.
While hiding in a bomb shelter during World War 2, the three Hapwell children find themselves suddenly in the Woodlands, which is quite obviously meant to be a similar situation to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When they return, no time has passed, again similar to the Narnia books. However, of the three children, Evelyn Hapwell finds herself unable to cope with the “real world”. One morning, her sister Phillipa gets a call: Evelyn has disappeared.
I thought the entire book would be told from Phillipa’s perspective as she tried to determine what happened to Evelyn, and how to go on from that news, but the first half is told from Evelyn’s point of view. The author uses famous poems sprinkled throughout to help describe Evelyn’s state of being, from her feelings of being out of place, to her struggle to appear otherwise.
After the halfway point, Phillipa takes over the narrative and it’s obvious that she, too, has her own struggles and ghosts to tackle. The way she handles them is incredibly different, but also leaves its mark on who she is. The author uses well-known works of art during Phillipa’s story line to the same excellent effect as the poetry.
I was surprised that there were scenes from the Hapwell children’s time in The Woodlands. I assumed that wouldn’t be touched on other than to say it happened. It added to the narrative, though.
The symbolism throughout is impossible to ignore, though it’s woven in subtly and seamlessly. It makes perfect sense and adds to the feel of the book.I found myself identifying with aspects of both Evelyn and Phillipa. I suspected the outcome, but it was still a journey I’m glad I went on.
One thing I was blown away by was the author’s ability to make the ending feel like a beginning. Not in an “I need a sequel” or “this book has no ending” sort of way, but in that it felt like you could catch up with the characters ten years from now and there would be a natural progression in their personalities because they were so realistic.
Warning” there is some mention of both self-harm and possible suicide. It’s done in such a way that I was able to handle it, despite those being incredibly difficult subjects for me to read about.
This book was a melancholy beauty, and is worth picking up.