“I dreamed a dream” sings Cosette in the long running musical version of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. I’m a huge fan and have seen it far too many times! What about the original best-selling novel by the great French writer?
Here, the author, who already has six other titles under her belt with her series The Guernsey Novels, adds the historical context of the years when Monsieur Victor Hugo is in exile on the island in his opulent (and slightly quirky) house.
The novel has his timeline in the mid nineteenth century, featured through the real character of a young woman who did copying for the writer, but has been fictionally developed into young widow Eugenie who in 1862 faces an uncertain future carrying her late husband’s child. Under tragic circumstances she meets Hugo and his mistress Juliette Drouet who immediately take her under their wing during a time when he was penning the most famous of his novels reflecting the real poverty and drama in France, a place of which he hoped to return.
The second strand of the novel features Dr Tess Le Provost, Guernsey-born though now finishing her training in Exeter where her parents live. She is shocked to learn that when her Great Aunt Dora dies she inherits her house on Guernsey. Returning to the island she finds a run down building that needs much work but also finds clues to the stories Doris used to tale about their ancestor Eugenie, who was according to myth, in a relationship with Hugo.
The story of Eugenie is revealed through journal entries and is totally believable and riveting, however I did find the side relating to Tess put a lot of emphasis on things slotting nicely into place with every turn she makes and I never felt as totally engaged with her as I did with Eugenie and the revelations about living so near to the writer.
But it’s a great read and the author, who had lived in Guernsey for fourteen years, knows the island well. I have friends who live there and have always put off visiting for one reason or another – I think this will have to change!
The writing is often beautifully descriptive and although the characters in the 2012 section, for me, were not as engaging as I’d hoped the modern love story rattles along nicely.
The hint of the past meeting the present and a surprise discovery keep you gripped and I’d be keen to see other novels if the author follows up a plot with further links to the history of the island.
An enjoyable personal read and I think book clubs will devour it. You’ll be wanting to see the stage musical again!!
Philipa Coughlan 4/4
The Inheritance by Anne Allen
Sarnia Press 9780992711269 pbk Mar 2019