Saturday, 21 February 2009

Book Review: The Kissing Gates by Mackenzie Ford

Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 433
Publisher: Sphere


'Set against the panorama of the First World War, The Kissing Gates is a poignant love story, a finely woven tapestry of choice, consequence and redemption. Mackenzie Ford explores the ambiguities of the human heart with an unwavering hand, and in so doing creates a haunting and moving tale that will resonate with the reader long after he or she has finished the last page." Pam Jenoff, bestselling author of Kommandant's Girl 'This book is a joy to read. Wonderful period detail, and the atmosphere so convincing it had me looking out the window for Zeppelins. The First World War ? with its no-man's land and valiant nurses ? is disturbingly contrasted to the peaceful idyll of rural England. Even the touching love story, with a secret ticking away like a time-bomb at its heart, has us on a knife-edge of uncertainty. And Ford provides fascinating details of the thrills of the wartime intelligence world. I was swept up in this intimate and captivating story of conflicting loyalties. It's the kind of read that lingers in the mind'

This is, in essence, a love story but with a huge secret at the heart of it.

Hal, the protagonist, is fighting in the trenches in World War 1, when a Christmas ceasefire happens. He, hesitantly, climbs into No Mans Land and meets Wilhelm his counterpart in the German Army. They exchange gifts and Wilhelm gives Hal a picture of himself and asks him to give it to his English girlfriend, Sam, who he met and fell in love with in England before the War started. Hal agrees to do this for him.

Shortly after, Hal is badly injured and goes home to recuperate - for him the fighting is over.

Hal, after recovery, then decides to try and find Wilhelm's love, Sam, and when he sees her he is instantly smitten. They meet accidentally (or so Sam thinks) and, the more Hal gets to know her, the more he falls deeply in love with her and, consequently, he doesn't tell her about Wilhelm, even though he knows that Sam is still in love with him and, indeed, has a son by him (though Wilhelm is unaware of this).

As the War rages, Hal and Sam go to live in London together but there is always Wilhelm's memory in the background. Is he still alive? Is Sam still in love with him? Can Sam ever love Hal and forget him?

As I said this is basically a love story but there is much more to it than's the story of secrecy, guilt, hatred for the Germans, and how the War affected families in so many ways, how it tore them apart.

I have to say that I was disappointed with the last 10 pages or so, I felt that the author rushed it and didn't know how to end it properly. But if I try and put that to one side I thoroughly enjoyed the whole engrossing story, in particular the part Hal played in the Intelligence and also his sister's letters from the Front (she was a nurse) were very interesting.

Overall, an absorbing novel set during the First World War.


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