Set in the time when the WWII is already over, when „Everything had already happened.“, this is a novel that is anything but finished with the wartime past.
„It was a time of war ghosts, the grey buildings unlit, even at night, their shattered windows still covered over with black material where glass had been. The city still felt wounded, uncertain of itself. It allowed one to be rule-less. Everything had already happened. Hadn’t it?“
The question is, what happens after wars. And the answer is always – new, different wars. The conflicts can never be over.
This is an unusual story, with unusual characters, persumable criminals, spies The Moth, The Darter, Olive Lawrence, an escaping mother etc, but what is most unusal and beautiful about it is the atmosphere. A slow unfolding story, deeply atmospheric. We can see the warlight so clearly, as if on a painting, the dark London in ruins, the boats, the river, the dogs, the seaside, the parties at their home, the dark rental houses. We can feel the uncertainity of everything in the air, the strangeness, the wonder.
„We continued through the dark, quiet waters of the river, feeling we owned it, as far as the estuary. We passed industrial buildings, their lights muted, faint as stars, as if we were in a time capsule of the war years when blackouts and curfews had been in effect, when there was just warlight and only blind barges were allowed to move along this strech of river.“
Nothing much had changed from the war, the atmosphere, the poverty, the ruins, the illegal activities, the light. Maybe when the lights are dim, we can see less of the truth, but realise more that there has to be something hidden in the shadows.
The narrator is telling us his stories from his different pasts, a past when he was a boy when their parents left them, a later past when their mother came back and another past when he was older tryinig to discover more about his mother thinking about what she had done before, before the novel started, during the war. The structure of this novel is the structure of memory itself.
„The lost sequence in a life, they say, is the thing we always search out.“
What is the truth? Can it be reached by memories, by facts and documents or by nothing at all?
„Is this how we discover the truth, evolve? By gathering together unconfirmed fragments?“
How can we even think about the past and try to interpret it. We have to get some answers about our past, about the truth in order to move on. Even if there is no truth, no explanations, no answers to our questions, we have to keep trying to light up our past.
„You return to that earlier time armed with the present, and no matter how dark the world was, you do not leave it unlit. You take your adult self with you. It is not to be a reliving, but a rewitnessing.“
What is the difference between memory and writing? Is it the same thing or are they completely different? Do we create our own memories and our own narratives?
„This is, I now tell myself, how it happened.“
Can writing and telling stories about ourselves to ourselves help us or make our wounds even grater than they were before.
„We order our livers with barely held stories, as if we have been lost in a confusing landscape, gathering what was invisible and unspoken.“
Does something become true when it is spoken or written?