What happens when a mother and her daughters are separated; who do they become when they believe it might be forever?
1953, the eve of the Cartwrights’ departure from Malaya. Eleven-year-old Emma can’t understand why they’re leaving without their mother; why her taciturn father is refusing to answer questions.
Lydia arrives home to an empty house – there’s no sign of her husband Alec or her daughters. Panic stricken, she embarks on a dangerous journey to find them through the hot and civil-war-torn Malayan jungle – one that only the power of a mother’s love can help her to survive.
This lovely read is the first novel by Dinah Jefferies, but it certainly doesn’t read like it – she’s a wonderful storyteller, and I really enjoyed this book. The structure is very clever – from the point where Lydia is caring for a sick friend and Alec leaves for England with his children, there are two distinct story lines.
In Malaya, we have Lydia’s search for her children – gripping and exciting – set against a background of barely suppressed violence, with a background of political intrigue and treachery. There’s a real eroticism at times around this story, against a background of the shimmering heat of the Malayan jungle, where the steamy heat is palpable and the settings vividly drawn. And, against all these smells, tastes and colours, the author creates some excellent and well-drawn characters.
And in England, we have young Emma struggling to understand her mother’s absence, her years at an austere private school, with some of her experiences moving me to tears. The contrast between the two settings can, at times, make it a bit of a wrench moving from one storyline to the other – I was mesmerised by Lydia, and did resent at times the move to the grey and cold. But as the story unfolds – and the way in which the reader always knows a little more than the characters is very well done – the stories start to converge, and there are plenty of unexpected and shocking twists and turns to keep you eagerly turning the pages.
I really like books that enable you to escape from everyday life, transport you to a different world – the author certainly accomplished that. A gripping and emotional read, full of atmosphere and exotic detail, with a rattling good story – I enjoyed it a lot, and really look forward to seeing what Dinah Jefferies tackles next.
The Separation was published by Penguin on 22 May, and is available for Kindle and in paperback.
Dinah Jefferies was born in Malaya in 1948 and moved to England at the age of nine. In 1985, the sudden death of her fourteen year old son changed the course of her life, and deeply influenced her writing. Dinah drew on that experience, and on her own childhood spent in Malaya during the 1950s to write her debut novel, The Separation. Now living in Gloucestershire with her husband and slightly overweight Norfolk terrier, she spend her days writing, with time off to make tiaras and dinosaurs with her grandchildren.