The Love Child by Rachel Hore: Warm, compelling, elegantly written, and full of fascinating 20th century social history - book review -

The Love Child
The Love Child
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A love affair which blossomed amidst the death and despair of the First World War battlefields leaves 19-year-old Alice Copeman pregnant and at the mercy of a disapproving society which has little sympathy for unmarried mothers.

A love affair which blossomed amidst the death and despair of the First World War battlefields leaves 19-year-old Alice Copeman pregnant and at the mercy of a disapproving society which has little sympathy for unmarried mothers.

Forced by her father and stepmother to give up the baby for adoption, Alice must try to shut out the memory of her little girl but secrets from the past can never be truly buried… and two lives will intertwine in the most remarkable way.

Rachel Hore, who worked in London publishing for many years and now teaches creative writing at the University of East Anglia, has become a master of beautiful, multi-layered novels and here she brings us the poignant tale of a young mother’s sacrifice and a girl’s desperate search for the truth.

Using her trademark compassion and human insight, Hore gets to the heart of the powerful bonds that tie a mother to her child, and the emotional fallout that ensues when that precious relationship is fractured.

In 1917, Alice Copeman is serving as a VAD nurse on the Western Front when she falls in love with injured soldier Jack and, believing that they will one day marry, the young couple succumb to temptation.

But when the man she loves is killed and 19-year-old Alice discovers she is pregnant, she returns home to London in disgrace and is told that she will have to give up the baby both for her own sake and the child’s to avoid shame and scandal.

Although Alice recognises that her stepmother Gwen has saved her from ‘a life in the shadows, a life that would have ended before it had properly begun,’ she cannot help but think about the small, ‘kitten-like’ baby girl she gave away, and still mourns the young soldier who would never have the chance to know his daughter.

Meanwhile, Edith and Philip Burns, a childless couple from a seaside town in Suffolk, yearn for a child of their own. They secretly adopt a baby girl, Irene, telling everyone that she is the child of cousins who have been killed in an accident.

But Edith, who often wonders why she allowed herself to take on a baby that she had never really ‘warmed to’ from the start, discovers soon afterwards that she is expecting a baby of her own and her son, Clayton, is the child that ‘would be hers indisputably.’

As Irene grows up, she knows that she is adopted and different from other children, but no one will tell her the full truth of her birth, and so she finds solace with schoolboy Tom Dell and his eccentric, unmarried artist mother, Miss Juniper, who make her welcome in their modest home.

In London, Alice is putting hopes of marriage and children behind her, and inspired by the ‘sense of purpose’ she had found while nursing in France, she embarks upon a pioneering career as a doctor, striving to make her way in a male-dominated world.

And Irene, struggling to define her own life, eventually leaves her Suffolk home to find work and more self-fulfilment in London, and as the two women’s lives intertwine across two decades, will the painful separation of mother and child finally be resolved?

Hore weaves together the strands of Alice and Irene’s individual experiences with careful attention to historical and social detail, and through a cleverly worked cast of characters who bring added life and depth to a story steeped in authenticity and emotional wisdom.

The limitations and restrictions on women in what was still predominantly a man’s world in the post-First World War period spring to life and serve as a timely reminder of the ongoing battle for full female equality one hundred years later.

Warm, compelling, elegantly written, and full of fascinating 20th century social history, The Love Child is the perfect read for autumn nights.

(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £16.99)