That They Might Lovely Be by David Matthews #BookReview #BlogTour

No-one thought Bertie Simmonds could speak. So, when he is heard singing an Easter hymn, this is not so much the miracle some think as a bolt drawn back, releasing long-repressed emotions with potentially devastating consequences... A decade later, Bertie marries Anstace, a woman old enough to be his mother, and another layer of mystery starts to peel away. Beginning in a village in Kent and set between the two World Wars, That They Might Lovely Be stretches from the hell of Flanders, to the liberating beauty of the Breton coast, recounting a love affair which embraces the living and the dead.

I'm delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for That They Might Lovely Be today, many thanks to the author, publishers and Frances Teehan for inviting me and for my advance ecopy of the book.
That They Might Lovely Be is set during one of my favourite periods to read about, from just prior to the start of the First World War until the beginning of the Second World War. This was a time of great social change, of course and David Matthews really captures that; the desire to cast off the old order juxtaposes with the fervent patriotism and belief in the old ways where people knew their place.
The narrative switches between decades as we first meet Bertie as an adult before being introduced to  him as an emotionally neglected young boy who is considered an elective mute. When he is heard singing in church there is much shock and scandal in the village, particularly when Lady Margery Cordingly changes her Will to bequeath to him, in trust, her house and estate as she believes he is her illegitimate grandson.  As the story goes back still further we realise that the devastating chain of events was actually triggered much earlier, probably beginning in 1914 with the intense friendship between Hubert Simmonds and Geoffrey Cordingly. They become a foursome that summer with Hubert's sister, Delia and their cousin, Anstace. As the First World War breaks out, the two men have to follow their own paths, one is moved to join up and fight, the other becomes a conscientious objector who goes to the Front with Quakers as the Friends' Ambulance Unit. Meanwhile the young women become their confidants as letters are exchanged that reveal the depths of feelings that must be repressed due to the social mores of the time. Their letters form the chapters in this section and there's a real poignancy to them as the four are changed irrevocably by the war. Their exchanges are  often heartbreaking, whether long and impassioned or simply two names when to say any more would be too difficult. The aftermath of the war brings tragedy and despair and it's during this time that young Bertie is conceived. His dysfunctional and repressed upbringing is slowly explained as the mystery to his parentage is eventually uncovered.
That They Might Lovely Be is a touchingly authentic historical novel, with love as its major theme. There's a real sense of sadness to the book, from the cataclysmic futility of the Great War to the hopelessness of forbidden love and the suppression of wants and desires. However, there is also a sense of hope about it with the acceptance of change, the belief in love and hope for the future, even though it may be uncertain.
That They Might Lovely Be is a beautifully written, evocative and cleverly structured novel. If I have one minor criticism it would be that I occasionally found it a little confusing trying to remember how the various relatives were linked and I think I'd have found a family tree useful - although given the mystery as to who Bertie's parents are, I realise it wouldn't be that straightforward to include. This is only a minor quibble however, I really enjoyed David Matthews' book and can thoroughly recommend it.

That They Might Lovely Be is published by Top Hat Books and can be purchased here. Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author

David Matthews was born in the middle of the last century to a Quaker father and a mother who left the Church of England to become a Jehovah's Witness. After a number of years "in the wilderness", he found himself back in the Anglican Church, active in the local community. David Matthews had a fulfilling career as a teacher, including eleven years heading a comprehensive school in Croydon, where he still lives with his wife and sons. He now feels he may devote a significant amount of time to transforming ideas, hatched over countless summer vacations, into novels, poems and plays. He enjoys spending time in south-west France where he is renovating a stone cottage with an idyllic view, and making a garden for it.
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