In 1939, just before the outbreak of war, two young men: Charles Northcote, an officer in the RAF, and his German lover, Anselm, an artist at the Slade, are in an hotel room overlooking Piccadilly Circus after spending the night together, when they are disturbed and arrested by RAF police officers. Charles is court-martialled for 'conduct unbecoming', and Anselm is sent home to Germany where he is convicted of 'degenerate behaviour' and sentenced to hard labour in an education camp.
In 2012, Edward Northcote, a British diplomat, is returned home to London after being captured and held hostage for eleven years in Afghanistan. In hospital, Edward, barely alive, sees his beautiful wife, Frejya, coming into his room, but she quickly disappears when he calls her name. This is because it is not Frejya that Edward has seen, but his daughter, Hannah, no longer the nine-year-old that Edward left behind, but a beautiful twenty-year-old woman. Frejya, Edward soon discovers, has died. (Not a spoiler - we learn this early in the story) .
When Edward returns home, he struggles to cope with the knowledge that he will never see his beloved wife again: "Her absence is like a presence now, as tangible as an indentation, as if she has just risen from the bed.." and he also finds it difficult to come to terms with the fact that his daughter is now a grown woman. Before long, Edward needs answers to some questions: firstly there is Frejya's death - was it really an accident? And why, after eleven years of captivity was Edward finally released - was a ransom paid? And was his release somehow connected with his father Charles?
Offered the use of a chateau in Alsace, Edward and his daughter head off to the French countryside with, amongst other things, the aim of getting to know each other again. There, in France, whilst the two of them live side by side in the beautiful old chateau, with its turret, its mullioned windows and its parterred gardens, Hannah and Edward begin to communicate on quite a different level.
There is a huge amount more to this novel, but I don"t want to reveal too much and possibly spoil the story for prospective readers; however, I will say that, moving backwards and forwards from the war years to the present day, alongside Edward's journey, we gradually learn of the difficult wartime experiences of the two young men we met at the beginning of the novel, which make for involving and thought-provoking reading.
Nigel Farndale brings together the various threads of his story deftly, and whilst parts of this novel are unsettling and, at times, quite harrowing, I was absorbed from start to finish. This is a rich, complex and moving story of different kinds of war, of different kinds of love, and of the need to survive; it's also one you will most probably continue to think about after you have turned the last page. I haven't read the author's first novel: The Blasphemer, but reading 'The Road Between Us' has definitely made me interested in obtaining a copy.
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