The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison

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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.

4 thoughts on “The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison

  1. This is waiting on my tbr pile. I’ve picked it up several times and then simply put it down again. Had it not been short listed for The Orange I probably wouldn’t have taken it from the library in the first place. Given what you say and with so much else I have to get through I think it might find its way back there unread.


  2. Margaret – Thanks for this review. I’d read that this was on the short list, but didn’t know anything about it. I think maybe I’ll wait on this one…


  3. Just finished this and was so disappointed! It seemed fairly promising at the start as Anna is evacuated and her mother settles down to life without her, but for me it did not develop well. I thought the characters mainly pretty two dimensional, and the writing was full of purple prose, particularly the unspoken love Ruth and Thomas were feeling for each other. When Elizabeth crashes her car and kills both herself and Ruth, for me, it failed to have the impact it should have. Perthaps because I had so far failed to properly engage with my characters, and I blame the writing for that. Significant events in Anna’s life seem to be rushed through with little to give me an understanding of her life. It also seemed careless too. Apparently when the children were small Anna spent Monday to Friday “washing nappies” etc., but on Wednesdays she went to work. I also grated my teeth when the elderly Anna reflects on the smell of wild garlic …and the next page it seems we are in October. Wild garlic flowers in late spring/early summer! I thought the characters were too superficially described, particularly Anna’s father. I’m afraid I even laughed when Anna suddenly drops down dead at the end. It just felt increasingly like a parody of itself.


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