Review: ‘Early One Morning’ by Virginia Baily

On a recommendation, I picked up ‘Early One Morning’ late one evening and must admit, I foun9780349006512d it difficult to keep hold of it.
For starters, writing in the present tense will never be something my mind is comfortable with – it feels too jarring and ineffectual in a narrative, because a narrative can rarely actually be present tense; you don’t often narrate as you observe, you narrate as you recount. And the past tense in this book, in my opinion, is a recount; it’s embedding Chiara’s past and present to show how she roved from the then to the now.

Chiara and Simone were difficult to believe in as well. They were allegedly older ladies, but we’re repetitively told they aren’t past their prime – well if they were having lives in the 1940s as adults, they certainly couldn’t be party animals in the 1970s. Now this isn’t me saying they should have been sat at home knitting and waiting for pension day, but some sense of age and perspective was needed to make them more believable and realistic.

And to alay fears of being ageist, Maria was a difficulty to me as well; at one moment a loving family member, and at another a Roman goddess. I physically cringed at the description of her ‘creamy breasts’ – a sixteen year old, come on – and couldn’t figure out where her real emotional value lay. Yes she’s a teen and they’re difficult at the best of times, but there’s normally one element of them you can pin down – Maria didn’t have this. Her switches flipped constantly, and it was too emphatically enforced every few lines that she would only call her dad Barry and her mother Nora was a traitor. It was too much; subtlety would have been wonderful here.

What I did enjoy, however, was the storyline about Daniele Levi and Chiara’s authorised kidnapping of a young Jewish boy about to be sent to a labour camp. The notion of a mother’s sacrifice is nothing new, yet Senora Levi’s decision was beautifully stoic and incredibly moving for the shortness of its appearance. Likewise, the transformation of Daniele from mute to recovering to addict was well handled and executed; not overplayed, and certainly not garish. It was what it was, and was a reminder of how well other incidents could have been handled.

Equally, dealing with Cecilia’s epilepsy in a time where it was still misunderstood and scorned was fascinating. It’s not often we think about epilepsy as debilitating now, with media portrayals in hospital dramas and such like of a fit being something you ‘get over’. Of course it’s not, and Cecilia’s story illustrated that, and it was a refreshing yet harrowing plot. I feel her ending lacked justice for how well she had been built up, and I really struggled to believe that Chiara, whose most authentic trait was the love for her sister and Daniele, would just abandon her and fail to mourn afterwards. It felt cold, cruel and out of spirit with who both of them were.

Perhaps, then, it is worth picking this up; I was keen to finish for the positive reasons of intrigue, but there are obvious narrative flaws. It is, therefore, a book for passing the time rather than consuming it, I feel.

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