The Very Thought of You is a book that starts off so well, but didn’t quite live up to its early promise for me. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, because I did, but it’s told from so many different viewpoints that my attention wandered at times. Then I found it getting repetitive because so many of the characters were experiencing sad love, lost love, yearning for love, love never known and separation from the people they loved.
Eight year old Anna is evacuated from London to Yorkshire at the start of the Second World War, leaving behind her mother. Along with other evacuees she goes to live at Ashton Park, the home of Thomas and Elizabeth Ashton, who have set up a school in Thomas’s ancestral home. The Ashtons are a childless couple, in an unhappy marriage and Anna gets caught up in their relationship as it breaks down.
There is too much description, too many insights into what the characters are thinking and feeling, but very little dialogue. It all began to feel remote and distant. At one point the children are having a poetry lesson and Thomas reads them a poem by e e cummings, a love poem and Anna sums up the book so well when she says it is a sad poem
because it was about sad love. … it was all distant, as if they could never be together … it sounds as if he thinks he’ll never reach her’ (page 209)
The final section of the book is about the rest of Anna’s life and the effect that the evacuation had upon her. She still yearns for what was gone and reflects on her love for Thomas. She feels detached and ponders whether life was
one long story of separation, just as Wordsworth had said. From people, from places, from the past you could never quite reach even as you lived it’ (page 300).
A sad and somewhat haunting book. Shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction for me it can’t stand up against Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.