The 100th anniversary of the end of World War I is an appropriate time to review a book which explores the impact of war on families, and celebrates the actions of conscientious objectors and anti-war activists. At the beginning there is a quote from war correspondent Robert Fisk, talking about standing on the paving stone in Sarajevo where a gunman fired the fatal shot that sent his father to the trenches of World War I, and saying that "it was as if history was a gigantic echo chamber". Hence the name of the novel 'Echo Hall'.
In the book, Echo Hall is a country estate in Shropshire whose resident family have to cope with war, pacifism and family secrets, opening with the first Gulf War of the 1990s, back to World War II and then World War I. Ruth Flint, an anti-war campaigner, newly married and pregnant and having to see her husband off to the first Gulf War, learns about several previous generations, similarly scarred by love, sorrow and war and carrying shadowy secrets. She discovers the stories of her predecessors, Elsie and Rachel, set against the history of World War ll and then back to WWI and the suffragette movement.
This anti-war suspense novel is the debut full-length fiction work of Oxford-based writer Virginia Moffatt. It covers several generations of the women of the Flint family, dealing with the separation of couples during war, living with fear and finding normal family life disrupted.
Echo Hall is well named, since the mysterious house echoes with the stories of the women who lived there, few of them happily. It is not only the focus on women which is refreshing in the book, it is the accurate reflection of the peace movement - something which author Virginia knows all about. She and her husband Chris Cole have been active as justice and peace campaigners for several decades and have worked with Quakers, for example, whose pacifism is accurately portrayed. In the book, white poppies are worn for Remembrance.
Virginia's saga of a troubled family explores cycles of violence that can tear couples apart, as well as whole societies. Virginia poses a wider question: is conflict always inevitable, or can we find another way? But the novel also covers age-old topics of love and hate, of friendship and betrayal, of prejudices, mistrust and sibling rivalry. I found it compelling despite its sombre tone and loved the setting of a house where malign influences linger, even ghosts. It is a fitting read for this season of Remembrance.
Echo Hall by Virginia Moffatt, has been published by crowdfunding publisher Unbound.
Paperback, 2017, ISBN-10: 1911586866
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