It's the early 1940s in France, when families are fleeing Paris as Nazi invasion is imminent. Tristan, a nine-year-old boy, is among those leaving behind their homes and possessions as he and his family travel to Oradour, a small village barely touched by the war.
Isabelle worries when her brother signs up for the war effort and goes off to fight for his country. The pair are close and try to keep in contact via letters but it isn't the same as having her brother close, especially when she falls in love for the first time.
Young Jewish banker Sebastien doesn't understand his father's worries for the family, but there is a hatred sweeping across the country that could put them all in danger.
In 1952, Adeline, a former resident of Oradour, has seeked refuge within a convent. Now mute and with a hazy memory of her past, Adeline must piece together the events that brought such horror that it would steal her voice.
I was immediately intrigued when I started reading The Silent Hours as we are introduced to Adeline. Who is she? And what secrets lay buried within her? The story takes place both within the war and several years after as Adeline struggles to come to terms with what has happened. I liked the shifting timeframe as it teased the information out, keeping me glued to the story.
I also liked the shifting perspectives within the book. The story is told from different viewpoints, mainly Adeline's, Isabelle's, Sebastien's and Tristan's. My favourite sections of the book focused on Tristan as I liked his childlike, often naïve, views on life. He doesn't fully grasp what is going on around him, which sometimes leads to some unsavoury situations, but he is just a child. Tristan provides some much-needed light relief within such a dark period of time.
The Silent Hours is based on true events but I didn't know anything at all about what happened beforehand. The book is beautifully written and obviously well researched. Sometimes with historical novels, it can feel a bit like reading a history textbook but the storytelling was so wonderful that the fact and fiction was woven seamlessly. There are several different threads within the book and I often wondered how they would all come together as the characters come from various backgrounds. But the lives did merge in a touching and at times horrific way.
The Silent Hours is a haunting yet touching tale, the kind where you need a good hug afterwards. I am sure the story will stay with me for a long time.