I may have found my book of the year. I think the mark of a great piece of fiction is not that it stays with you once you have finished it, but that you stay in it. You continue to wonder about the characters, how they are and what they are doing; you wonder how the book’s world might change and what will happen next. And I have found a book that does all this for me. It’s so good that I am prepared to overlook the occasional jarring Americanism pushing its way in. As anyone who knows me will tell you, my praise doesn’t get much higher than that!
The book in question is The Light Between Worlds by Laura Weymouth and published by Chicken House. It is the story of three siblings, set in two different worlds during, and after, the Second World War. In the middle of an air raid Jamie, Philippa and Evelyn Hapwell are transported to the Woodlands. Laura Weymouth grew up reading the Chronicles of Narnia and the idea of a parallel world comes from CS Lewis’ famous books. But this is not a pale imitation; rather it is an exploration of how such a transition affects different people.
The book is in two parts with each containing alternating flashback and current narratives. Part one is told from Evelyn’s viewpoint and part two from Philippa’s. Jamie is present in them both but remains a shadowy character as befits his response to the siblings’ experiences. Both parts are grounded in the world of post-war England and told from that perspective. As the story unfolds we see, partly through the aforementioned flashbacks, what happened in the Woodlands but, more importantly, we see the effects of that sojourn five years on. Both strands of plotline unfold gradually and not always chronologically. It’s impossible to describe much of the plot without giving too much away. So I’m not going to try.
I am sure that there will be much discussion and debate about the book’s underlying meaning, about the symbolism, about its relationships to other children’s novels. Experts will comment on its themes of fantasy and reality, its depiction of mental health and what it says about family ties. I hope very much that these conversations will not drown out the inescapable truth: that this is a piece of first class storytelling.