Early One Morning by Virginia Baily
Published 2016 by Fleet
My copy: Secondhand paperback
A grey dawn in 1943: on a street in Rome, two young women, complete strangers to each other, lock eyes for a single moment.
One of the women, Chiara Ravello, is about to flee the occupied city for the safety of her grandparents’ house in the hills. The other has been herded on to a truck with her husband and their young children, and will shortly be driven off into the darkness.
In that endless-seeming moment, before she has time to think about what she is doing, Chiara makes a decision that changes her life for ever. Loudly claiming the woman’s son as her own nephew, she demands his immediate return.
Three decades later, Chiara lives alone in Rome. But when she receives a phone call from a teenage girl named Maria, claiming to be Daniele’s daughter, Chiara knows that it is time for her to face up to the past.
January has been a bad month for me bookwise – I’ve ditched a lot of books that I just couldn’t get into, and found myself not enjoying several books that I had thought I would love. I can’t tell if I’m in a new year slump, or have just been picking up duds!
Early One Morning had been on my wishlist for a long time, and I loved the premise of the novel so thought it might be the one to bring me back on track after so many weeks of dire reading.
The start is intriguing, with Chiara finding herself making a split second decision that changes her life forever when she ‘rescues’ a young boy, Daniele, from being taken away from his family by the Nazis.
From Rome, we quickly move to Wales where we meet 15-year-old Maria – she’s a bit stroppy, and things get worse when she finds out a secret about her family. The reader finds out straight away how this connects to the story in Italy, and from here on in we move between the past and present, but even the scenes set in the present day, most of which follow Chiara who is now in her 60s, hark back to the past. And in this way, we slowly fit the pieces of the story together.
The premise of the story definitely is interesting, and Chiara is a complex character who often does not make the best decisions. She seems to live a very quiet life now she is older, but there are hints that there is still a fun-loving woman inside her, of whom we occasionally get glimpses. It is clear that she hasn’t seen Daniele for many years, and we slowly piece together what had happened to the two over the years.
Strangely, though, we never really find out quite enough about Daniele himself- he is such a central character in the book but we just get snippets of his past and how he coped over the years. This to me was a major flaw of the novel, as there was so much more I wanted to know about him. Yet at the same time the book seemed to have a lot of irrelevant detail – not least the section where Chiara gets injured by a car, and ends up spending the day with the driver. This added nothing to the story at all, and just seemed to slow things down. There were lots of sections like this – where there is a lot of extra detail that is sometimes repetitive, yet so much of the actual story seemed to go unsaid.
I did find this frustrating, and the quite tidy ending could also be annoying for some readers. But overall I did like the novel – and I managed to finish it, which is something of an achievement for me this year! I loved the setting of Rome, and the contrast between the past and present worked well in the main. However I did feel there was something missing from this book and I almost wished the author or editor had gone back and ripped out a bunch of stuff and replaced it with detail more relevant to the plot.
My rating: 7 out of 10
This guest review was contributed by A House of Books. The real house of books is based near London, but the virtual one is on her blog. Along with her book reviews, she posts the occasional opinion piece.