An epic novel of a romance forged in war and of the couple’s later troubles while raising a family.
Sebastian Lavalle enthusiastically leaves home at the tender age of 15 in pursuit of adventure. He joins the French navy and works as an engineer on the warship Jeanne d’Arc. However, the 20-year-old doesn’t anticipate the horrors he will experience after France and England, in 1939, declare war on Germany. Later, while enjoying a brief respite from the war in England, he meets a young woman named Amelia at a dance, and the two quickly fall deeply in love; they marry almost immediately and pledge to spend their lives together. Sebastian is deployed yet again, but when the war ends, he reunites with his wife. He secures a good diplomatic post with the French government that has a bright future, and he and Amelia eventually have five children. Their time and money are stretched thin, so she considers giving the youngest child to her sister, Helen. In the end, though, Amelia and Sebastian decide to keep it—but then Amelia discovers she’s pregnant yet again, this time with triplets. As the family grows, so, too, does their collective angst. Sebastian is compelled to work virtually around the clock, and Amelia’s entire life is consumed by her domestic duties. He looks elsewhere for comfort and romance, and he and Amelia start to grow apart. Debut author Banks follows the story of the Lavalle family through the young adulthood of Sebastian and Amelia’s children, diligently tracking the ramifications of the couple’s woes on their progeny. The book adroitly plots out a whole family history, carefully connecting the dots over successive generations. The prose is often elegant: “she had never seen such a magnificent tree in her whole life. It looked like a weeping willow dressed for a ball.” However, the story unfolds more rapidly than the character development does. For example, the love between Sebastian and Amelia develops so quickly that it’s never clear what accounts for their bond, which seems more like callow infatuation than genuine depth of emotional commitment. Still, the quality of the writing and the sweetness of the story will carry romantically inclined readers along to the poignant conclusion.
A flawed but still rewarding tale of a relationship.