Monday, 1 October 2012

A World Between Us - M's Review

A World Between Us by Lydia Syson

A World Between Us is a love story. But it is not just a love story and it’s much more complicated than a simple love triangle. The publishers describe it as a political romance and they’re spot on. This story is about romantic love between young people, but it is also very much about idealism, commitment and, for some readers, nostalgia. There’s also the small matter of the Spanish Civil War.

A World Between Us is a good one for those who like the swoon and it’s a good one for those who like the history and the politics in their books - and there's war action too. It’s quite different from anything I’ve read in recent years

A World Between Us by Lydia Syson
It is a love story about Felix, Nat and George. The story begins in 1936. Each section of the novel is framed by Felix speaking in the present and then the main story is flashbacks.  So you know from the start that something terrible has happened. But you’re not too sure what or why.

Felix (Felicity Rose) is a quietly feisty and surprisingly spontaneous seventeen year old who wants to become a surgeon. She is treated by the other characters as a bit of a damsel in distress, which is a bit surprising given what she ends up doing.  She makes a split second decision that puts her in the middle of a bloody war that's essentially about ideas and control. Nat is an exciting and passionate character. He is Jewish, a member of the Young Communist League and joins the International Brigades to help the Spanish Republic’s armed forces in the battle against fascist forces. He's also a bit of a charmer. George is a journalist and he thinks the world of Felix. I couldn’t help myself warming to him immediately.

Overall, this novel surprised me. It has a charming British feel to it: quite prim and proper in many ways but quite the opposite in other ways (for me, this muddled the flow of the text at times).  For an historical romance, the pace moves very swiftly. It’s a hot blooded story from the very first pages as it starts with a chance encounter during a political skirmish on the streets of London while the Spanish Civil War is battling on in Southern Europe. And there is action throughout the novel: proper war scenes with soldiers fighting and bullets tearing out parts of their bodies; and proper aching first love kissing scenes. There are also betrayals and trickery throughout the novel. Not so prim and proper.

There is also plenty of background information about the Spanish Civil War included in the dialogue. The novel also explores questions about media censorship, the confusing nature of civil and ideological wars, and the romanticising of revolution that gets dashed only when the bullets start flying and all hell breaks loose. Amidst all the romance, A World Between Us explores themes of guilt, loyalty, bravery and vision.

For all the blood and guts in A World Between Us, reading it made me happy. While it is a story about war and ideologies, first and foremost, it is a love story. And it is the people in this story who really count. While the story says a lot about humanity and war, it also reminds us that people are individuals with a huge capacity for passionate love.

I can see this story appealing to a broad readership for very different reasons. Teens may enjoy it as a passionate love story peppered with a war story.  Others may enjoy it as an impassioned and fictionalised political history. And then there are those other readers, some who will be much older, the former comrades and compatriots across the world, who may shed a wrenching tear while rousing a smile for the way that some things were – and the way that things still could be.

Publication details:
Hot Key Books, October 2012, London, paperback

This copy: uncorrected proof copy received from the publishers

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