When I Was Young – Mary Fitzgerald

A young girl, Eleanor, from a farm in the Pennines is given the opportunity to go on a French exchange programme. She will escape the drudgery of farm life, where her home is not a home but a house, where her mother does nothing to encourage anything and feeds her the basic food. Her father is there, but he says nothing. Home is a bleak place with no colour or vibrancy. Eleanor simply exists and survives.

Eleanor grasping the opportunity that is handed to her goes to France, to the Loire Valley. Where the beauty of the countryside, the vibrancy of colour, the new scents is in contrast to what she has been growing up with. She knows that her exchange with sullen student Jean Paul will not be reciprocal, he would never contemplate coming to a farm on the Pennines.

But despite this beauty, Eleanor realises that this family she is staying with have problems of their own. There is dark secrets, and Eleanor is at an age when she is starting to feel emotions that are new and quite frightening for her. Some secrets are for telling others are for feeling and Eleanor becomes an adult and woman as her time in France is extended indefinitely.

What makes this book stand out from the rest? It is in the beauty of the writing, the way the author has taken a very simple story and weaved something magical around it all. It is not a modern tale, we are not talking about some fluffy and heady teenage romance. This is the 1950s, the war may be over but it is still deep-rooted in so many people’s memories, and the after effects are like a ripple on a pond, reaching further and further out to touch the reader. And touch the reader they do.

It is told in Eleanor’s voice and we seen how she is perceiving everything about her. I felt like this was an old lady writing about such a happier time to share with her family as to how life turned out for her from the age of sixteen. With her vulnerability you felt for her and I cared about Eleanor and the life she was creating for herself which is why I had to keep reading. Eleanor blossomed as a character and from the page as well.

A beautiful gentle novel that shows secrets do not always have to end in tragedy and that the past can remain there and love is in the future.

This book was kindly sent to me by the publisher and was previously published in e-book as The Imperfect Tense.

This book was probably something that I would not have picked up if I had been to left to my own devices in a bookshop. So I am very humbled by the lovely publicists who send me these novels. They have introduced me to so some lovely reads. This was a book I enjoyed reading and I am intrigued by the authors work.

Out in paperback on 27 March 2014 or on kindle now.