Cesca Major's novel The Silent Hours was chosen as the latest read for the BritMums bookclub. It was a book that I'd never heard of but it is one that I will certainly not forget. A work of historical fiction, the novel is set in wartime France but, located in the unoccupied zone, the peaceful village of Oradour-sur-Glane is largely undisturbed by the horrors going on slightly further afield.
The structure of the novel is a bit complicated to begin with. It is made up of several separate narrative threads that are at first unrelated - we discover Adeline, seeking solace in a convent in the 1950's, so deeply traumatised that she has lost the ability to speak; Tristan, a young boy whose family have moved to the village to escape the dangers of wartime Paris; Sebastian, a young Jewish man who could not go to fight due to an injured leg; Isabelle, the village shopkeeper's daughter, who writes letters to her older brother who has gone off to do his duty. As the novel progresses, the separate threads and destinies become intertwined to create a rich, colourful tapestry of life in the village and it is poignant to see events from differing viewpoints, particularly through the eyes of an innocent child.
Reading as an adult, we know that horrors are lurking just around the corner, sensing the impending doom way before the characters themselves. Even though, the shocking events at the end of the novel that rip the village apart, literally and figuratively, come as a complete bolt from the blue. The contrast between the relatively untroubled and carefree village life and the beauty of the dappled countryside lanes and riverside with the horrors of war make it even more unbearably poignant and chilling.
The barbaric acts are even more sickening and terrifying when you realise that this is the fictionalised account of a real event. The author is a history teacher who researched the village and its fate before writing the book. It's hard to believe that such atrocities were committed, and even worse is the fact that the martyred village of Oradour-sur-Glane and the fate of its inhabitants remains largely unknown.
It is fitting that the innocent victims have been given a voice so that they can be remembered and honoured. As well as representing the events of a specific day (June 10th 1944), the book evokes the more universal themes of love and loss, mistrust and betrayal, anguish and ultimately a sense of hope and new beginnings. I could see this being made into a film equally moving and unforgettable as Saving Private Ryan or Schindler's List.
star rating : 4.5/5
RRP : £12.99
Disclosure : I received the book from the BritMums Book Club in order to write an honest review and take part in the discussion.