Last week was Persephone Reading Week which has been hosted by Claire and Verity. As well as visiting the Persephone bookshop, I did manage to read one of their titles, but didn’t manage to blog about it last week. So here I am a week late – my choice was one of the Persephone top-selling titles:
Little Boy Lost by Marganita Laski.
Imagine you only ever saw your baby boy just the once, then war intervened and your family was split. This happens to Hilary Wainwright, who goes to war leaving his wife and new baby in Paris to follow on, but they never do as the Nazis take Paris. Lisa later dies working for the resistance and the baby disappears. Five years later Hilary returns to find out what happened to his child – a colleague Pierre has found a likely candidate in a Catholic orphanage in a little town some way from Paris – but is this child really little John?
I won’t tell you any more of the plot, suffice to say that it is a tear-jerker, but it also got me doing the bookish equivalent of shouting at the telly – yes! Although you naturally have huge sympathy for his situation, Hilary is an intellectual who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and is always too quick to find everyone’s little failings, while neglecting to see his own. He also dismisses Winnie the Pooh!
‘I don’t know any stories about little saints,’ said Hilary, trying hard to remember what he himself had enjoyed when he was five. I have a horrible feeling it was Winnie the Pooh, he thought, but I’m damned if I’m going to introduce any child to that type of whimsicality. He started to wonder how far a parent could be justified in refusing to allow his child pictures or writings that he as an adult must condemn on aesthetic grounds – and was recalled by Jean pulling at his sleeve and urging, ‘Please do begin.’
The depiction of life immediately after the war in France is gripping, indeed the book was originally published in 1949. The little town in which Hilary finds himself is not only grey and decrepit, but also full of resentment between its inhabitants – some were ‘collaborateurs’. The black market is thriving, and at the town’s remaining rather nasty hotel, anything is available – at a price. It’s not a nice place, but makes for a totally gripping read. (8/10, I bought this book).