June 1939 - two young men are arrested in a London hotel. Charles and Anselm are lovers - not a problem today but in 1939 it's illegal and, when they are discovered in compromising circumstances, there are penalties to be paid. Charles, a pilot in the RAF, is court-martialled for 'conduct unbecoming', and Anselm, an artist studying at the Slade, is deported back to Germany where he is sent to be 're-educated' in a labour camp. Separated by the war sweeping through Europe and by the prejudice of society, can their love survive?
In the present day - Charles's son, Edward, having been captured on a diplomatic mission to Afghanistan and held for eleven years in a cave is eventually freed. The timing and means of his release are puzzling - who, after all this time, has stepped in and paid the captors' ransom demands? Back home, Edward finds the world hard to adjust to. The everyday world has changed a lot in 11 years but there are more personally disturbing changes - his wife Frejya has died and Hannah, the daughter he remembers as a 9 year old, has grown into a carbon copy of her.
The Road Between Us is a compelling story wrapped around themes of discrimination, intolerance and the overwhelming power of love. The two story-lines unfold alternately, teasing the reader on to discover where and how they'll meet - for you know they will - uncovering deeply hidden family secrets on the way.
At its core The Road Between Us is a story about love - the strength that it gives, the power that it can hold over us and the sacrifices that have to be made for it - but it's not a cute hearts and flowers romance. It's dark, often distressing and disturbing in a variety of ways. Anselm's life in the labour camp is filled with casual cruelty - kept on the minimum rations, worked till exhaustion, experimented on in the name of rehabilitation, men are singled out for torture or summarily executed at the whim of the camp's commander - Edward's solitary imprisonment in the dark plays on all our fears of claustrophobia and abandonment, and the physical, sexual attraction between him and Hannah, particularly Hannah's willingness to give in to it is disquieting to say the least. Taken as a whole, it's a deeply affecting story, one well worth a re-read but first I'll catch up on the author's previous novel.
Somehow this book passed me by when it was first published and I only came across it thanks to the #bookadayuk initiative on Twitter started by Borough Press and now continuing with Doubleday where it was mentioned as a book that hadn't received the attention it deserved. I'm so glad I found it - even if a little late.
Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Black Swan (Transworld)Genre - adult fiction,