The Memory Box by Kathryn Hughes

A very big thank you to Rosie Margesson for my copy of this wonderful book! It’s out now with Headline Review.

Synopsis

Jenny Tanner opens the box she has cherished for decades. Contained within are her most precious mementoes, amongst them a pebble, a carving and a newspaper cutting she can hardly bear to read. But Jenny knows the time is finally here. After the war, in a mountainside village in Italy, she left behind a piece of her heart. However painful, she must return to Cinque Alberi. And lay the past to rest.

After a troubled upbringing, Candice Barnes dreams of a future with the love of her life – but is he the man she believes him to be? When Candice is given the opportunity to travel to Italy with Jenny, she is unaware the trip will open her eyes to the truth she’s been too afraid to face. Could a place of goodbyes help her make a brave new beginning?

Thoughts

Remarkable! I really didn’t expect to be swept away like that!

Kathryn’s writing is beautiful and easy, she transports you instantly within this wonderful story of love and loss, where you get to meet 2 amazingly endearing, flawed and relatable main characters.

Jenny is 100 years old, and knows that time is running out. Her most prized possession is this hand carved wooden box, made with love, offered out of love, and filled with love. As she takes her loving Green Meadows’s carer Candice though those few precious items, she gets to share her life story. 

And what a life she has led! Candice unknowingly becomes the guardian of Jenny’s adventures, griefs, losses, love stories, sufferings, joys and regrets. We get privy to terrible ordeals from the dark part of our history that is WWII, signing an implicit pact that the sacrifices that happened should never be forgotten, and making you wonder what you would have done in the same situation. 

Kathryn Hughes wittily alternates different narrations, and different timelines, keeping us on our toes. 

In the 1940s you follow Jenny being sent away to Wales with her little brother Louis to ensure their safety as WWII is raging; but even amongst adversity, she still managed to meet the love of her life, Nico, for whom she will sacrifice everything, including break the heart of her new Welsh family. 

Nico, the beautiful, dark and mysterious type, declared enemy alien by Churchill simply for being an Italian in the United Kingdom. This offers the reader an insight into a lesser known side of WWII (at least from my perspective). Italy fought too, and from within, against the fascists and “Il Duce“, thanks to very brave men and women known as partisans.  

As Jenny shares deeper and darker memories with Candice, back in our 2019 present, she subtly helps this simple and caring girl detangle herself from the web of lies and abuses her boyfriend Beau has created around her, whilst hoping to take Candice along to one last trip to Italy.

God I despised him so much! Through Beau’s character and behaviour, Kathryn demonstrates the subtle face abuse can take. It shows the hurt and danger words can represent – violence isn’t simply physical, it can take many forms, including devious comments, implied threats, lies and manipulation. It infuriated me so much to witness Candice’s blindness and submissive acceptance to it all! 

The dynamic between those 2 women is stunningly portrayed. Both freeing each other from the darkness in their lives, liberating themselves of regrets, protecting each other, without even realising it.

Through the exploration and explanation of the significance of the items in Jenny’s memory box, the story unravels for both of them, taking twists and turns that I never expected! I, for one, was truly blindsided by the denouement. 

Such a clever, thought provoking and heartwarming story, I strongly recommend it!

With Love
AGJ

–About the Author – Kathryn Hughes–

Kathryn Hughes was born near Manchester, UK in 1964. After thirty years working as a secretary and bringing up two children, she finally realised her dream of writing a book. Her debut novel, The Letter, set in her home town, was first published in 2013 and since then has become an international best-seller, translated into 30 languages.

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