Review – The Road Between Us by Nigel Farndale

By | July 29, 2013

I wrote a review for Goodreads back in January 2011 for Nigel Farndale’s novel The Blasphemer. Overall I loved it, but you’ll see that I did have some niggles, mainly around the modern story line. However, others plainly loved it too, because the book was shortlisted for the 2010 Costa Novel Award and (perhaps an even greater accolade?) was selected for the Richard and Judy Bookclub. But I had absolutely no such reservations about this one – it absolutely blew me away.

The structure is broadly similar – a modern story and a wartime one, running side-by-side but not in strictly alternating chapters.  The opening is striking – two naked young men, in a hotel room overlooking Piccadilly Circus, one an English pilot officer (Charles Northcote), the other a German artist (Anselm). The year is 1939, and their night is ended by the arrival of two RAF police officers. The story then moves to the present day – Kandahar province, present day, and an English man (Edward Northcote) released after over eleven years in captivity.

The wartime story is a harrowing one – Charles loses his commission for “conduct unbecoming”, his lover Anselm is sent home to Germany and sentenced to a labour camp. The modern story is equally strong – Edward struggles to come to terms with the end of his captivity, finds that his wife has died, and he has a complicated relationship with his daughter Hannah.  

Charles’ ongoing story unfolds – he does everything possible to track down Anselm, and it’s an engrossing story, crossing war torn Europe, touched with horror, cruelty and disturbing images. Meanwhile Edward wrestles with the relationship with his daughter, and with the knowledge that a ransom might have been paid to secure his release.
This is an incredibly moving book, dealing in essence with forbidden love and the strength of the human spirit, with a complexity of structure and narrative that makes it an absolutely compelling read. The drawing together of the two stories towards the end is heartbreaking and very deftly handled, and the writing throughout is enthralling and perfectly paced. With its brave handling of the very difficult subject matter – the moral issues are addressed but never with a heavy hand – this book will stay with me for a very long time.

My thanks to netgalley and Transworld for the advance reading e-copy. The Kindle edition and hardback were published in June 2013 – the paperback edition will follow in February 2014. For more information, visit Nigel Farndale’s website.