Secrecy, insecurity, and distorted memories cast a pall over much of this novel, as if the opium which figures significantly in a portion of the book infused the entire narrative.The lives of the three major characters are complex. All are World War Il survivors: Marilyn from the London blitz, Oscar and Christine from the Nazi depravity in war-torn Europe. The important supporting characters, Barnaby, Simon, and Walter, are well developed and interesting in their own right. The author succeeds in exposing the characters’ inner beliefs and emotional traumas; we discover how their perceptions of events and memories direct the course of their lives.
The author’s skill with language heightens the reader’s curiosity to know the truth: who really is Oscar? Is it possible to know, without a doubt, when an act is one of self-preservation or of deliberate collaboration? What was real and what imagined?The functional selectivity of memory is enduring and subtly powerful, but not necessarily accurate or obvious. Yet this selectivity determines and defines the lives of the people at the core of this complex novel. What we bring to the text determines what we take from it, as the reader’s own perspectives and preconceptions become an unwritten part of the narrative.