2012. Alice Dickinson - whom readers first encountered in The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life - goes to France to meet the grandmother who has only just learned of Alice's existence. "You come from a long line of mistakes," Pamela Avenell tells her, "and one true love story".
It's that love story which is at the heart of William Nicholson's superb new novel Motherland, a book whose characters link it to the loose Sussex trilogy - The Secret Intensity ..., All the Hopeful Lovers and The Golden Hour - but which also stands alone. It's a masterly piece of work from a writer whose gifts include an unsurpassed ear for dialogue, a fluency in the telling of a story which keeps the reader turning the page while yet wanting to linger in and savour the moment, and an empathic insight into the hearts and minds of each of his characters. You can tell that I loved every word of it.
In 1942, Kitty, an army driver stationed in Sussex, meets Ed, a Royal Marine Commando, and his best friend Larry, a liaison officer attached to Canadian Army Combined Operations. Kitty falls in love with Ed, but both Ed and Larry fall in love with her - sanguine, accepting Larry wishes his rival well, and then the two men take part in Operation Jubilee, the catastrophic Dieppe Raid - in which the casualty rate was almost 70% - and Fate plays her hand.
Setting the book in England during the Second World War and in India shortly after it, William Nicholson uses real events to test his characters and real people to play opposite them. It's a winning combination, never stilted or contrived, but plausible and convincing, and in his Author's Note he quotes his sources and acknowledges his debt to the work of his wife, the social historian Virginia Nicholson, and in particular to her book Millions Like Us: Women's Lives in the Second World War.
If you're not already acquainted with William Nicholson's work, don't lose a moment, and read him at the earliest opportunity - he is that good.