Published by Walker Canongate July 2011
‘My name is Catherine Rozier, please don’t call me Cathy. If you do I’ll jump. Don’t think I’m bluffing. It’s a 3000-foot drop and even though I’m fat, I’m not fat enough to bounce. I’ll dive headfirst into ye ancient Guernsey granite outcrops and then my mashed-up body will be washed out to sea. of course if I get the tides wrong I’ll be stranded on the rocks with seagulls eating my eyes. I know for a fact they’ll eat anything.’
Good Reads Summary
Life on the tiny island of Guernsey has just become a whole lot harder for fifteen-year-old Cat Rozier. She’s gone from model pupil to murderer, but she swears it’s not her fault. Apparently it’s all the fault of history.
A new arrival at Cat’s high school in 1984, the beautiful and instantly popular Nicolette inexplicably takes Cat under her wing. The two become inseparable: going to parties together, checking out boys, and drinking whatever liquor they can shoplift. But a perceived betrayal sends them spinning apart, and Nic responds with cruel, over-the-top retribution.
Cat’s recently deceased father, Emile, dedicated his adult life to uncovering the truth about the Nazi occupation of Guernsey from Churchill’s abandonment of the island to the stories of those who resisted in hopes of repairing the reputation of his older brother,
Charlie. Through Emile’s letters and Charlie’s words recorded on tapes before his own death a confession takes shape, revealing the secrets deeply woven into the fabric of the island . . . and into the Rozier family story.
This first novel from Mary Horlock is a dark and complex tale. There are two time lines: a first person account by a teenage girl in the 1980s and events from the WWII occupation of Guernsey by the Nazis revealed through transcripts and letters from the 1960s.
There is a great deal of emotional to and fro as the central character Catherine attempt to cope with the demands of adolescence and the death of her father. The passionate intensity of friendships and school life at that period are evoked in detail, and with empathy.
Catherine has a strong individual voice and through her eyes we uncover many of the lies, secrets and comforting half-truths that have so poisoned the world she lives in. Similarly we learn about the back story through the voices of Charles and Emile, her uncle and father respectively. There are several revelations which make the reader see how characters acted in a different way.
One reservation I have is the use of Guernsey patois. Much of this enlivens the storytelling by giving a local edge to the voices – but there are few translations and the reader is left wondering if they have missed anything important. On the other hand, the footnotes add credibility and interest.
This is not suitable for younger readers as it features psychological bullying, alcohol abuse and age-appropriate swearing. It could appeal particularly to adult readers interested in the legacy of WWII. This is a book for those who like intricate dramas centred on the consequences of lies and secrets, and who enjoy engaging with recent history.