Set on Jersey in the Channel Islands during World War II, this novel explores the residents' increasingly bleak day-to-day lives under German occupation.
Debut author Lea evokes the land with the lyrical fondness of a native: “a beautiful jewel: formed by years of pressure and compression, shaped by the elements and then constrained and combed and ordered by the metallic tools of man.” She also keenly conveys the hardships endured by the Jèrriais, as the locals call themselves: those brought by the Nazis, including curfews, blackouts, restrictions, and rationing, and also those they bring upon themselves with gossip and betrayals. The novel falters, however, in the choice of narrators. Its focus on local healer and herbalist Edith Bisson; newly arrived Dr. Timothy Carter, who's in charge of the local hospital; fisherman Maurice, caring for his dying wife; and 10-year-old Claudine Duret is disappointing, since only one of these characters evolves in a meaningful way. Claudine goes from being a neglected child to an abused one. Dr. Carter, who could never stand up to his father in England, can't stand up to the exceptionally cruel commandant who appropriates his services as his personal physician, pulling him from his hospital patients. Maurice suffers watching his wife suffer. When the four unite to finally take drastic action, it seems less an act of resolve than one of beleaguered exhaustion.
A finely detailed exploration of life during wartime which would have benefited from more fully realized characters.