Huge thanks to Jess Duffy over at Pan Macmillan for sending me a review a copy of The Faithful by Juliet West in return for an honest review – I am so delighted to share my review here as I absolutely loved this fascinating portrayal of wartime passions, fateful decisions and self deception.
July 1935. In the village of Aldwick on the Sussex coast, sixteen-year-old Hazel faces a long, dull summer with just her self-centred mother Francine for company. But then Francine decamps to London with her lover Charles, Oswald Mosley’s blackshirts arrive in Aldwick, and Hazel’s summer suddenly becomes more interesting. She finds herself befriended by two very different people: Lucia, an upper-class blackshirt, passionate about the cause; and Tom, a young working-class boy, increasingly scornful of Mosley’s rhetoric. In the end, though, it is Tom who wins Hazel’s heart – and Hazel who breaks his.
Autumn 1936. Now living in London, Hazel has grown up fast over the past year. But an encounter with Tom sends her into freefall. He must never know why she cut off all contact last summer, betraying the promises they’d made. Yet Hazel isn’t the only one with secrets. Nor is she the only one with a reason to keep the two of them apart . . .
From the beaches of Sussex to the battlefields of civil war Spain, The Faithful is a rich and gripping tale of love, deception and desire.
If you read my blog at all, you’ll know that I love a bit of a tale where it sends me diving off into a tailspin of ‘research’ into the real story behind the novel after I finish a good read – and The Faithful was definitely one of the most fascinating in terms of what I found. It’s so interesting to uncover a very different story of Britain during the lead up to WWII and think about Fascism in Britain as well as on the continent through the eyes of an ordinary girl after some extraordinary experiences.
Juliet West is a writer at the top of her game; if you’ve read and loved Before The Fall, you’re in for another treat: this is top-class wartime fiction with strongly realised characters and an emotional punch – If you haven’t read it yet, you definitely should. It’s one of the most human wartime novels I’ve ever read and I really found it hard to ‘decompress’ from the world Juliet West recreates for us after finishing it.
I love the way that in both novels there is a skilful balance of foreshadowing and suspense of what is to come so that we feel the balance subtly shift and change as we read, wondering what the ramifications of each decision the characters make will be. Bea is someone who you will follow keenly as you await her decisions and think closely about what you might have done in similar circumstances.
I hate giving spoilers about such an engrossing read; instead I’ll praise Juliet West’s deft characterisation that has us hating Francine one minute for her closed minded selfish attitude and then moving closer to understanding her in the context of her time and social class the next. This is human history at its finest – making us see the war not as a list of events but a succession of relationships, decisions and human frailties that accumulated in tragedy for thousands of people. I learned a lot about the ‘ordinary’ face of Fascism and exactly how it appealed to so many people in the years between the war – far more than I have done in many of the factual articles and films I’ve seen and this is testament to the research and detail woven into the novel which really brings this complex period to life for us.
West is equally impressive conjuring up the Spanish civil war as she is in recreating the complex social stratification of British seaside towns and the diverse settings in the novel give this novel an epic feel – I kept wondering who I’d cast if I was making a film of The Faithful and imagining it coming to life on the big screen was hugely satisfying. If you loved Atonement, All The Light We Cannot See, The Nightingale or Everyone Brave is Forgiven, you’ll absolutely love the wartime setting of this book and if you love the human side of history you’ll definitely be caught up in this very human tale of truth, deception and consequences just as much as I was.
I absolutely loved the evocative description and lyrical language in this novel and got swept up in the story so much so that I didn’t want to leave. The portrayal of mothers in The Faithful is another aspect of this novel that really stood out for me and I loved the juxtaposition of relationships that we are presented with Bea and Francine, Hazel and Tom are unforgettable characters and the way that their lives intersect leaves the reader asking themselves probing questions about the reasons we make decisions and if we are being as honest with ourselves as we think we are at some of the critical times in our lives…
Writer On The Shelf:
Juliet West worked as a journalist before taking an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University, where she won the Kate Betts’ Memorial Prize. Before The Fall, her debut novel, was shortlisted for the Myriad Editions novel writing competition in 2012. Juliet also writes short stories and poetry, and won the H E Bates short story prize in 2009. She lives in West Sussex with her husband and three children.
You can follow Juliet on Twitter @JulietWest14