I meandered languidly through this book over the past three weeks. It tells two stories which are barely more than tangentially related; one is the story of Anna Ware, a teenage English girl sent to live with her uncle at his failed school during the sweltering summer of 1976. (Yes, same summer as Instructions for a Heatwave . . . AND, I think, The Cement Garden which I read in February but haven't had a chance to blog about yet.) The other is the story of Stephen Fairhurst, owner of Kersey Hall and veteran of Waterloo, more than a century and a half earlier.
At first I found myself more interested in Anna's story than in Stephen's. And, though I was enjoying reading, I didn't find the book compelling. Until just a day or so ago. Suddenly, surprisingly, the book reached critical mass, and I realized that both stories (and their tenuous, mysterious links) had quietly and stealthily become fascinating. I finally had the time to finish the book this afternoon . . . but even after I finished reading, I didn't feel like I'd reached the end of the story. It's not that the plot felt unresolved, but I was left with so many unanswered questions.
As I mentally enumerated the remaining mysteries, I tried to convince myself that further elucidation didn't matter (because it would be so freeing if I could just let it go), but the longer I spent in this tally, the more I fretted and wondered, like a dog worrying a bone (or something less clichéd).
My biggest question: What was the deal with Cecil living in Anna's time and yet being seen in by Stephen? Was this just some sort of contrivance added after the book was mostly completed in hopes of making the link between Stephen and Anna seem slightly more substantial and/or interesting? (If so, mission accomplished.) If I knew this was all it was, I could let it go. But I am unable to know and unable to let it go and thus my mind won't stop digging for a deeper meaning.
There were many other unanswered questions that aren't quite as niggling, partly because the answers aren't even hinted at and partly because knowing the answers really wouldn't have much bearing on the story. (Consequently--thank goodness!--I feel more able to let these go.) Like: What happened to the school to make it close? Where had Belle been all those years? (I couldn't help but wonder if she'd been in prison for something. But if so, what for?) Who was Cecil's mother, and where was she?
Enigmas aside, I was drawn in to the relationships described in this book. There is something undefined that holds me back from naming this a Must Read, but I can definitely say my expectations were exceeded (and not just because they were low in the first place).