This is a story about the separation of mothers and daughters told from opposite sides of the world by Lydia, a young mother abandoned in Malaya in 1955 and her daughter Emma lonely and unloved in England. Initially the main story is of Lydia’s journey during the Malayan Emergency through the dangers of jungle roads where insurgents may kill or kidnap locals or colonials alike. With little money, she searches for her missing husband and daughters gaining help from a mysterious stranger. Her story includes love and tragedy against the background of the steaming heat and lush growth of the countryside.
Lydia’s story is told in the third person, but we have no doubt about her feelings and emotions. Emma describes events in her own words. She is an independent eleven year old, traumatised by the sudden move to cold, drab England after her happy childhood in the tropics. No-one will tell her where her mother is and she misses her terribly. In addition she has to deal with an abusive adult and a harsh boarding school.
I identified strongly with this story, remembering 1950s England and having spent some of my teenage years in Malaya and Singapore. The authenticity of the settings is striking, but what captivates the reader is the passion and drama of the plot. There are mysteries to solve, scores to settle and happiness to hope for.
Dinah Jefferies is a talented writer who is able to give context and characterisation to a moving, thrilling plot. This was a book I read late into the night, not wanting to put it down. Highly recommended.
The Separation is available on Amazon here
Dinah was born in Malaya in 1948 and moved to England at the age of nine. In 1985, the sudden death of her fourteen year old son changed the course of her life, and deeply influenced her writing. Dinah drew on that experience, and on her own childhood spent in Malaya during the 1950s to write her debut novel, The Separation.
Now living in Gloucestershire with her husband and their Norfolk terrier, she spends her days writing, with time off with her grandchildren.
The Hour Before Dawn is the story of two generations which is told in the details of traumatic events in 1976 and the present day. Unusually there are two heroines in this novel, Fleur Montrose and her estranged daughter Nikki. The two women have been torn apart by a mysterious tragedy in Malaysia when Nikki was 5, as well as the early loss of Fleur’s husband, Nikki’s father David.
The story also goes back to 1966 when 15 year old, Fleur met army officer, David in Singapore. For me, having lived in Singapore at this time, this part of the tale didn’t ring true, but later scenes, particularly of Malaysia, reminded me of the sights and smells and the contrast between busy towns and the peace of the beach houses at Port Dickson.
Fleur’s flawed relationship, both with her mother and her daughter seem to stem from her selfish, single-minded behaviour but later it becomes evident that she has concealed a troubling secret to protect her family. In addition they have to cope with the mysterious disappearance of Nikki’s twin sister Saffie in 1976 and Fleur’s remarriage after her first husband’s death.
Now a widow once more and writing a dissertation as a mature student, Fleur sets out for New Zealand on a trail of Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s architecture. She intends to stay with her daughter Nikki, who is expecting a baby with partner Jack. But Fleur does not turn up. She has disappeared while stopping over at Singapore. Reluctantly Nikki and Jack set out to look for Fleur. In Singapore they meet Inspector Mockter who discovers that Fleur has taken a train and bus to Port Dickson in Malaysia, the place where Saffie was last seen.
In the course of the story we eventually come to understand what happened to Saffie and why Fleur behaved oddly. Inspector Mockter has a special rapport with Nikki which helps her to cope with an impossible situation, while heavily pregnant.
Sara MacDonald is a talented writer. She deals with complex family relationships and their breakdown very effectively. There is a strong sense of place in Port Dickson and the Bay of Islands in New Zealand. There are a few editing issues, especially with the spelling of places in Singapore but I am just being picky since they don’t affect the content of a tremendous story of loss and hope.