The Silent Hours by Cesca Major

This is a book which I have been waiting some time to read having first becoming aware of it last year. Lots of bloggers I follow were saying how wonderful it was so I bought myself a copy. My close friends and I get together every so often for a girls’ night in when we discuss a book we’ve read. I chose this for my selection. Christmas and New Year got in the way but finally, we discussed the book last night. I thought The Silent Hours was an amazing book. It took me a while to establish in my head who the characters were and at first it does seem as though they aren’t connected. Adeline is being cared for in a convent and has been mute since her arrival 8 years previously. She is obviously troubled and traumatised by something which has happened during the war. As we read more of her chapters, we start to see glimpses of her previous life and begin to guess at and piece together what has happened to her. There are also chapters told from the viewpoints of Sebastien and Isabelle, two young people falling in love during the war. Isabelle’s brother Paul is a soldier and we learn about him through his letters home. A young schoolboy, Tristan, provides the final voice in the book.

Through the perspectives of these characters we see what life was like in a French village Oradour, in a part of France which has been largely untouched by the war. Cesca Majors weaves the chapters together beautifully building up a picture of the relationships and connections between the characters. She has described so vividly the village and surroundings that I could picture them clearly in my mind. Her account of the deepening relationship between Sebastien and Isabelle, despite the difficulties and constraints of wartime, was utterly convincing. The love between Isabelle and her brother Paul shines through too in their letters to one another. I wasn’t very fond of Tristan initially and wondered what his part in the story would be though it did, of course, become clear. As all the chapters were written in first person, I really got a feel for each character’s thoughts and emotions. For me this first person narrative worked particularly well as the story reached its conclusion in differing ways for the different characters.

There are many books set in this historical timeframe but what made The Silent Hours stand out as something special for me was discovering the true story at its heart. It’s not an episode in history I had been aware of before and as a result, the incident came as quite a shock. No wonder Adeline was struck dumb by the horror she had been through. This book shows once again the futility, atrocity and tragic human cost of war. A beautifully written, powerful and poignant debut novel.

The Silent Hours was published in paperback by Corvus on 5th November 2015. You can order a copy here: The Silent Hours

From the back of the book

An epic, sweeping tale 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. Beautifully wrought, utterly compelling and with a shocking true story at its core, The Silent Hours is an unforgettable portrayal of love and loss.

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