Two lives are forever changed after a sexual assault during World War II in this debut novel inspired by real-life events.
It’s 1943, and all over England people are doing what they can to support the war effort. In rural Yorkshire, 20-year-old Mary Louise manages the canteen at the local base; her parents take in a boarder, Jock McGregor, a married engineer overseeing the base’s expansion. One evening, Jock rapes Mary Louise. Soon, she discovers she’s pregnant. Jock refuses support—“I don’t want your child spoiling my future successes,” he tells her. Over the ensuing decades, Mary Louise’s and Jock’s paths diverge. She marries a widowed farmer, has more children, and gradually builds a comfortable life for herself. Jock returns home to his wife and children, but alcoholism and mental illness destroy his hopes for happiness. These two people, connected only by their brief encounter, lead totally separate lives until an old acquaintance arrives and encourages Mary Louise to come to terms with her past. Husband’s first novel is based on his own family’s remarkable history: his mother was the victim of a wartime rape, and he was born as a result. The author draws readers back through history with his detailed accounts of life in midcentury England and America. The book is well-researched and peppered with facts that help give the events context. Occasionally, however, these details intrude on the narrative—asides about the American Indian Movement’s occupation of Alcatraz Island or the effects of immigration in England’s West Midlands distract from the story’s larger drama. At times, these historical details seem to be a substitute for emotional depth. Some of the fictionalized elements, like Jock’s acid-tripping escapades in 1960s San Francisco, don’t ring true; it’s hard to imagine the uptight Jock suddenly discovering his inner love child. But the novel works as a study in the way war can drastically change people’s lives, even for those who never see action. It’s also a penetrating look at how different people respond to crisis.
An unusual story about the way a single event can change the course of someone’s life.