I, very gratefully, received an advance reading copy of this book from Penguin. It is one of those rare occasions where I come to a book with absolutely no preconceptions having not read any other reviews (it is not released yet) or ever heard of the author. Although I know you should never judge a book by its cover I did think it looked like it might be a bit too ‘chick lit’ for me but I promised myself I’d keep an open mind.
Set during the Malayan Emergency, The Separation is the twin stories of a mother, Lydia Cartwright, who tries to rebuild her life believing her family to be dead and that of the eldest daughter, Emma, who has actually been whisked out of the country by her father and is coming to terms with her new life in England.
Having just struggled through Middlemarch reading this book was like having emerged from a cloud. Obviously it is not “great writing” but it is an easy page turner. Jefferies depicts the sense of a mother’s loss and child’s confusion well, and the sticky Malayan climate oozes throughout Lydia’s chapters. I liked the character of Emma, who’s ‘coming of age’ is complicated by her difficult father sending her away to a harsh boarding school. I suppose I have a more complicated relationship with Lydia who showed pluck and determination in parts but was rather too dependent on the men in her life, although ultimately finding the strength to go it alone. The historical setting is not one that appears in many novels (none that I have read, anyway) and that novelty definitely lifts this a notch or two, although the British get off rather lightly in what is a rather shameful episode in our colonial history.