Lies Told in Silence by M. K. Tod. Tod Publishing, 2014.
Near the end of Lies Told in Silence, M. K. Tod’s beautifully rendered story of a French family during World War I, her main character, Hélène Noisette, wonders to herself: “Is it the things you choose or the things you don’t choose that make your life?” In any novel about war, this has to be one of the central questions. It could just as well be asked by Natasha Rostova in War and Peace or Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. Events people didn’t choose came to their doorstep, and character was shaped by the will to retain the power of choice in the face of those events and to exercise it wisely. Choices, very much limited by circumstance, present themselves like a great divide–life could diverge this way or that–and Hélène had to confront many such fateful choices. Tod shows them to us with sensitivity and respect for all her characters’ humanity.
The book opens in May 1914, when Hélène’s father, Henri, who works in the War Ministry in Paris, determines that it is no longer safe for his family to remain in Paris. Unwillingly, 16-year-old Hélène must move out of the city with her mother Lise, and her younger brother Jean. Her older brother, Guy, stays with his father in Paris to attend military school and prepare for the war. Mother, daughter, son, and Henri’s mother, Mariele, settle in the small town of Beaufort, northeast of Paris, at a family home once belonging to Henri’s sister. Neither Lise nor Hélène have been emotionally close to Mariele (Grandmère) up to this time, so it is an uneasy household at best. Hélène is miserable; she misses the excitement and variety of her life in Paris–her friends, her school–and thinks:
How can Grandmère be so content? Doesn’t she miss her friends and the theatre and the beautiful shops of Paris? Here we are stuck in a tiny backwater because Papa is worried about something that may never happen.
That was in June. By August, war had broken out in Europe and everything changed. It became clear that while Paris was threatened, Beaufort might be in the line of fire too. It seemed that Germany planned to march north through Belgium and then invade France from there. But all the family could do was stay put and wait, and learn to adapt to life in wartime, its shortages, and the need to be more self-sufficient if they were cut off from supplies and the resources of normal daily life. Something shifted for Hélène; she understood that if she wished to be more grownup she would need to start helping her mother and grandmother, learn the skills of life most needed in the situation they were caught in, and take her share of responsibility for boosting their morale. Months and years passed, and Hélène did indeed grow up:
All the vestiges of girlhood were gone. She no longer dawdled along the road or sighed over fashion magazines or complained about her lot in life. She read the newspaper with care and wrote articulate letters to her father and brother. She learned the difference between German, French and British planes so she could recognize any that flew near the house, knew how to bottle and pickle, when to prune their vegetables and how to repair the outside pump. … Hélène was busy all day and wore a look of quiet authority and purpose.
Most important, the women in the neat house in Beaufort came to rely on each other, seek each other’s counsel, and share the immense challenges of living. Tod’s novel is ultimately a love story, and it begins here, with the unshakable love that grows between Hélène, her mother, and her grandmother.
One day they can hear a repetitive sound that they realize must be artillery fire. It is undeniable what is happening, but Hélène cannot help but think, “No…war is for history books, not for us to experience firsthand. It’s for faraway places known only on maps.” But the war will approach them very closely indeed. Canadian troops will be stationed near them, making preparations and then fighting the battle to take Vimy Ridge. Hélène will meet a Canadian soldier named Edward Jamieson and discover the intensity of love in wartime. She will have to face the deep anxiety over the absent loved one’s safety, compounded by worry about whether love itself can survive the rigors of war.
The rest of the book tells their story, and I won’t reveal much more about it. I do want to say, however, that Tod uses letters very effectively throughout the book: between the Hélène and Edward, between Lise and Henri (another love story!), and between Guy and his parents, after he joins the army. We who are so used to instant communication by many means can only imagine how desperately people waited for those letters, with some news of their loved ones’ situation, physical well-being, and state of mind. In wartime, all communication, by whatever means, is threatened, and Tod makes this precious, fragile link between her characters stand out in many heart-rending moments.
Tod has a clear, flowing writing style; her prose spins out in a rolling, companionable way with just enough added description to create a sense of immediacy for the reader–so important to the success of any historical fiction. I found the setting of Beaufort natural and convincing, precisely because it was revealed in the daily activities of Lise, Hélène, Grandmère, and Jean–I felt I knew their clean and serviceable house, with its attic retreat for Hélène; the places in town and in the countryside they visited; and the townspeople they met. I was surprised to learn in the author’s note that “Beaufort” was a fictional town, because it seemed very real to me, and I was ready to add it to my next itinerary for a visit to France! The closest I might come would be Vimy, which is in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France, on the border with Belgium. Here is a picture of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, dedicated in 1944.
This novel was a five-star read for me, and I highly recommend it!
Lies Told In Silence
Release date: end of July 2014
at Tod Publishing
ISBN: 978-0 991967025
In May 1914, Helene Noisette’s father believes war is imminent. Convinced Germany will head straight for Paris, he sends his wife, daughter, mother and younger son to Beaufort, a small village in northern France. But when war erupts a few months later, the German army invades neutral Belgium with the intent of sweeping south towards Paris. And by the end of September, Beaufort is less than twenty miles from the front.
During the years that follow, with the rumbling of guns ever present in the distance, three generations of women come together to cope with deprivation, constant fear and the dreadful impacts of war. In 1917, Helene falls in love with a young Canadian soldier who was wounded in the battle of Vimy Ridge.
But war has a way of separating lovers and families, of twisting promises and dashing hopes, and of turning the naïve and innocent into the jaded and war-weary. As the months pass, Helene is forced to reconcile dreams for the future with harsh reality.
Lies Told in Silence examines love and loss, duty and sacrifice, and the unexpected consequences of lies. [provided by the author]
M.K. Tod writes historical fiction featuring WWI and WWII. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED, was selected as Indie Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society.
In addition to her writing, Mary maintains the blog www.awriterofhistory.com where she talks about reading and writing historical fiction.
She has also conducted two well-regarded historical fiction reader surveys and in her spare time reviews books for the Historical Novel Society.
M.K. Tod is delighted to hear from readers at mktod at bell dot net.
Visit her blog
I am pleased to include the following **GIVEAWAY** of Lies Told in Silence. To Enter the drawing, click on the entry form below. There will be 9 winners of an e-book (mobi or epub). This giveaway is open internationally.
I encourage you to visit France Book Tours to find other stops–and more reviews by many delightful bloggers–on this book tour!
*Note*: I received an electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation, and the views expressed in my review are my own opinions.