The Blue Hour – two love affairs and two summers, 75 years apart
Damaged by a toxic relationship, Ava Westmorland flees the ruins of her life in London for a carer’s job in a Cornish village. She hopes a combination of countryside and coast will heal her shattered heart. But she has yet to face tyrannical Tilly Barwise; the 89-year-old she will be looking after. Sharp, cantankerous and with an acid tongue, Tilly is the polar opposite of a sweet old lady. She has lived a thrillingly full life of romance and intrigue – and is determined shy Ava will follow in her doddering footsteps.
Through Tilly’s outrageous antics and bittersweet reminiscences, she shows Ava what it is to embrace life. As the pair form an unlikely bond, Tilly reveals the details of a wartime love affair with an American that ended in tragedy – but not quite in the way Tilly always believed.
M J Greenwood has drawn a rich, funny, and poignant portrait of two women reluctantly bound by circumstance amid a landscape that retains a unique beauty, even in the midst of unwelcome change.
Poor old Tilly! Almost 90 years old with only her memories – apart from the cigarettes and the brandy – to sustain her. Those memories are mainly about her love for GI Jack during the Second World War and the pregnancy she was left with. It comes as a shock when you realise that the result of that liaison is the ghastly Vicky, now 70 years old! I’m not sure how she is the product of Tilly and Jack – she’s truly awful.
The story is told in two timelines – the first during the war when Tilly was a boy-mad, sexy, attractive 18-year-old living with her boring, staid mother and straying father, and the second when she is a wrinkled, decrepit, cantankerous, old bat living in her home in Cornwall after a brief spell in a nursing home. We first see Tilly when she meets an American GI called Jack and they fall instantly in love (or lust). Much of this is told in letters from Jack, diary entries and letters from Jack’s family to him.
In 2015, Ava has just split from her husband of a year after he went of with her best friend and to add insult to injury they are having a baby. The job came up as Tilly’s carer and though she has no experience whatsoever other than being an excellent cook (she’s a copywriter in an advertising agency or was), she got the job. She soon discovers why. No-one else has lasted more than a day or two – one only lasted an afternoon. In fact the whole community seems to have taken bets on her lasting 24 hours. Initially, you can understand why. But our Ava is made of sterner stuff and besides she needs a job and doesn’t want to go back to London, to her ex Josh and pregnant Sadie.
This book is at times poignant, sad, and often extremely funny with a rich cast of characters, from Ava’s possible love interest (not telling) and the indomitable May who cleans for Tilly, to Evangeline from the care home and her blossoming romance with Robbie the gardener. We also of course have daughter Vicky and her son Edward, but lots of others drop in and out, and it looks like Tilly has more friends than enemies – so long as they don’t have to look after her.
My only reservation is the acceptance that Tilly has survived so long in spite of smoking 40-a-day which grates somewhat as the book appears to condone it. It took decades to stop both my parents from smoking and it still killed them both in their seventies so I am not a fan. However, I love her WW2 Ration diet (if someone needs to lose weight she tells them) and I’m sure a drop of brandy never hurt anyone (a drop that is though – not half a bottle). Tilly is rude to everyone, proudly decadent, an incurable romantic and frankly a pain in the posterior, but we can’t help loving her by the end.
About the Author
Melanie Greenwood is a mother-of-four, former journalist and editor who specialised in features for regional and national press. he was born in Liverpool, with Irish roots and now lives in a village at the foot of the beautiful Mendips in Somerset, near Bristol. The Blue Hour has been a four-year project begun during an MA at Bath Spa University.
When she’s not writing or reading, She loves creative gardening, comedy (live and on TV), going to plays, walking, salsa, poetry, music, family and friends, trying to get to grips with stand-up-paddle boarding and learning to sail.