England, 31st August 1939: the world is on the brink of war. As Hitler prepares to invade Poland, thousands of children are evacuated from London to escape the impending Blitz. Torn from her mother, eight-year-old Anna Sands is relocated with other children to a large Yorkshire estate which has been opened up to evacuees by Thomas and Elizabeth Ashton, an enigmatic childless couple. Soon Anna gets drawn into their unhappy relationship, seeing things that are not meant for her eyes - and finding herself part-witness and part-accomplice to a love affair, with tragic consequences. A story of love, loss and complicated loyalties, combining a sweeping narrative with subtle psychological observation, "The Very Thought of You" is a haunting and memorable debut.
The Very Thought of You is an interesting study into the experiences of a child evacated to Yorkshire during the Second World War. It is a book brimming over with details and certainly at the beginning of the novel I felt like I was watching a film rather than reading a book. Such is Alison's ability to use description in the most visual of ways. I "saw" London transformed through Alison's beautiful description. She captures the view of the city as it was haunted by the wait for the first bombing by Hitler's Nazis.
I really liked Alison's characterisation of Anna as a child. She captured both the boundless energy of children and their deepest fears. Anna Sands had a very believable voice. I also enjoyed the descriptions of Ashton Park and its statues. I love old English estates and grand manors and Alison communciated the sense and wonder of these historical and mysterious places.
Unfortunately, the relationship between the couple who owned the house was so full of despair that I found it hard to connect with certain parts of the novel. I prefer books which inspire hope and Alison portrayed the darkest aspects of marriage and an individual's deepest longing. I found it hard to like Elizabeth and even Thomas at times who had a much more gentle side.
As the novel moves towards its climax, I found that I had even disconnected with Anna. She does not mature into the type of woman that I expected or hoped for. I could not reconcile myself with her actions and her attitude towards her own marriage.
The novel's ending certainly resolved all the plot lines that Alison explores through The Very Thought of You but personally I didn't find the ending satisfying. It was not the ending that I wanted.
Overall, Alison must be congratulated on her exquisite skill with description. The colours and beauty of Aston Park jumped off the page for me. However, this novel lacked hope and even though it showed the absolving, healing and fulfiling quality of love, it did not leave me feeling satisfied.