Top critical review
Intelligent Historical Romance
on 15 November 2012
The story begins with 14-year-old Andrew Clarke, Dorothy's son by a Greek officer in Selonika, discovering and reading his mother's personal diaries, which give a detailed account of her life between 1st January 1916 and October 1917, when she returns home to the UK pregnant with Andrew, who until he reads his mother's diaries knows nothing at all about his Greek father.
The first part of the book consists of Dorothy's diary, which she writes during her stay in Greece working as a nurse in Selonika during the First World War.
The second half of the book describes Dorothy's son, Andrew's search for his real father. At the age of 19, in 1936, he travels to Greece and retraces his mother's footsteps, discovering his hidden past and learning more about his mother's early life.
The Long Shadow is meticulously researched and written. There are beautiful descriptive passages of Greece at the time; of Selonika, of the camp where Dorothy worked as a nurse, of the Greek countryside and the local towns. Descriptions of the hardships experienced by the soldiers, the Greek population native to the area, the doctors and the nurses are beautifully rendered.
The styles of writing between Dorothy's story, told in the first person present tense through her diary entries and Andrew's story, told in third person, are distinct, as they should be, given the different periods being described.
I found the first half of the book, Dorothy's diary, while informative and engaging, to be so detailed as to slow the pace of the story. It seemed to me that such detailed and well-informed descriptions of what was going on, politically and militarily, were not realistic diary entries for even an exceptionally well-informed eighteen-year-old girl abroad for the first time, working very long hours with very little leisure time. Indeed, they seemed instead to be more the views of a much older woman looking back with informed hindsight on her memories of what had happened. The outcome of Dorothy's meeting with Costas was so well foreshadowed by the opening chapters, where Andrew discovers his mother's diaries, that such a detailed account of their meeting, their affair, Dorothy's life as a nurse in Greece, the detailed background of WWI seemed to take far too long.
The second half of the book, Andrew's Odyssey, although still very detailed, had the advantage of taking the reader into unknown territory, which helped immensely with the pacing of this section of the narrative. However, the outcome of the story soon became obvious though, again, it took an extraordinarily long time to reach its resolution. It did have a lovely, rewarding twist to the end that made me smile with satisfaction.
There is an awful lot of background information and minutiae which, unless the reader is particularly interested in this period of Greek modern history, might prove to be a little too much to digest.