2014 is proving to be a really good year for books. This is exciting, because the past couple of years haven’t been so great (or maybe I just haven’t been buying the right books). Last year, of course, there was The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, which was my Book of the Year, but that was pretty much the only one that bowled me over. This year, along with The Rosie Effect (TRP’s sequel), there have been several novels competing for the “No, that one was my favourite” accolade.
The Twilight Hour by Nicci Gerrard is one of those. It is, in a word, beautiful.
To any passer-by, Eleanor Lee might be almost invisible – just another elderly lady – but beneath the surface lies a powerful secret she has kept hidden for decades…
At the dawn of the Second World War, Eleanor is a fiercely independent young woman, determined to write her own future, rejecting marriage for passion, security for adventure. But now, seventy years later, alone in her big old house, she is anxious to erase the past.
Peter Mistley, a young man escaping his own ghosts, is employed to help Eleanor sort though her lifetime of possessions. For amongst them are things that her children and grandchildren must never find. Together, Eleanor and Peter uncover traces of another life – words and photographs revealing a story of forbidden love, betrayal, guilt and self-sacrifice.
But by releasing her memories at last, can Eleanor still protect those who must never know the truth?
I can’t remember if I’ve ever read anything else by Nicci Gerard, but after reading this one I’m pretty sure I’m going to buy some others. It’s a lovely story, beautifully told, and does something I absolutely love: treats old people like they’re humans.
Some of my favourite people are (were, have been) in their 80s and 90s – filled with life and stories and tidbits of information that those of us who haven’t been around for so long aren’t yet privy to. But the elderly aren’t just story machines; they’re humans too, with wants and desires and needs just like the rest of us. A lot of books (and people) forget this, I think, and treat them like they’re either superhuman wise-old-ancients, or fun little pets.
The Twilight Hour doesn’t do that. Eleanor Lee is a complex character, down to earth and filled with the same stuff as her co-protagonist, Peter Mistley. Yes, she’s lived a lot already, but that doesn’t mean she’s not still living. Her story’s drawing to a close, but it’s still happening at the same time. And she is an active part of it, not a passive passenger.
It’s a novel about two people who are stumbling in the world, and who find each other. A story of what loneliness can do to a person, and how people can be lonely in different ways. How sometimes all we have to do is give another person a chance.
And it hits one of my other favourite points as well: it’s realistic. There are no wildly unlikely plot-saves, nothing particularly ground-breakingly unusual happens. I thought the ending was going to go a certain way, which in my mind would have been the perfect literary ending; but it didn’t. It went the realistic way, and that made me love it more.
It’s one of those books you’ll read in one sitting, curled up on the sofa with a mug of tea, and when you finish it and put it down, you’ll be very still for a few moments while the ghosts of the characters curl around your mind and take up their positions there. ‘Cause those guys won’t be leaving anytime soon.
The Twilight Hour will stick with you in the best possible way; remind you that people are people, we’re all struggling through the world in our own way; and might just make you a better person after you’ve read it.
An excellent story, beautifully told.