Reflective novel set in Denmark, France and Canada
The Line Between Us
Location(s): Welsh Borders
Genre(s): Fiction, Historical, Romance
Ifor is the gardener at Nanagalan, an ancient manor house situated in the Welsh Borders and Ella is the only daughter of the family who owns it. In 1939 Ifor enlists to fight and is one of a small number of soldiers left behind in France after the evacuation from Dunkirk. The British government sends a requisitioned liner to recover the stragglers from St Nazaire in Brittany, but the Lancastria is bombed by the Germans and Ifor is left battling for survival in the water.
Framed by Ifor’s account of the sinking of the Lancastria and his return home, events unfold in a series of flashbacks which follow his rite of passage from innocence to experience during the gilded period between the two wars. His memories of life at Nanagalan, his abiding passion for Ella and his determination to see her again are what help him to survive.
As he struggles to keep afloat amongst the wreckage he remembers watching both his elder brother and his father go off to fight in the Great War and never return, and the grief he shared with his widowed mother and socialist sister. Despite working hard at his grammar-school education, his mother persuades him to take a job as a gardener’s boy for the local gentry. Here he meets and falls in love with Ella, the daughter of the house. Their delicate, ambiguous, unspoken feelings form a contrast to the complicated relationship being played out between Ifor’s friend and mentor Brown the family’s chauffeur, Mrs. Brown the cook and Samuelson who is the lazy, bullying head gardener and Ifor’s boss.
At a time when lines between the classes are rigidly drawn, Ifor is obliged to stifle his passion. As he grows to manhood, he does all he can to avoid scandal or compromise Ella’s standing, and he marries Jenny, the local librarian. In spite of his good intentions, his love for Ella is so all-consuming that it casts a dark shadow over his relationship with his wife.
Promoted to Head Gardener, Ifor does his best to forge a life among the local characters in the village of Morwithy, playing cricket on the green, listening to the wireless and fearing the return of conflict in Europe. The story comes full circle with him being dragged from the wreckage of the Lancastria by a French trawler. Will he find a way to tell Ella how much he loves her, or will the line between them shut him out forever?
Dedicated to the lives lost in the sinking of the Lancastria – over four thousand souls – Kate Dunn’s poignant novel tells a story of unconsummated love, exploring the implacable class divisions which defined the early part of the twentieth century.
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