When a novel has it’s base in truth, something magical often happens. There emerges that wonderful feeling of connection and empathy that breathes life into a tale. The feeling that you have a unique and tiny window into a world from the past.
But It takes a skilled author to open that window. Some who knows how much to reveal and when, who knows which tone to strike and which colours to use to paint the scene. With Caroline Lea, readers, you couldn’t be in safer hands. Her latest novel The Metal Heart released this week by Michael Joseph Books is a beautiful example of a tale with truth at it’s core.
Set in the Orkney Isles in the years of WW2 it tells of the hundreds of Italian Prisoners of War who were brought to the Island. Whilst working to build controversial sea defences the POW created the most remarkable Catholic Chapel from what they could scavenge from the island. It still stands today. A testament to their time on the Island.
Against this fascinating backdrop Caroline Lea has woven a story of love. Of trust, both misplaced and rewarded. Dorothy and Constance are twins; women who have lead their entire lives within this small island community. Orphaned and trying to come to terms with events in their past, the women, particularly Con are often remote from those around them. They volunteer to nurse the POWs and it is here that Dot meets and falls in love with Cesare, an Italian craftsman, struggling to cope with the ongoing reality of war.
The story is in essence simple, but the emotions, conflicts and tensions around it are not. They are beautifully complex and expertly drawn. The characters that tell this story are well rounded, motivated by genuine and complex emotion. Caroline Lea an author with an eye for detail; be it in the beauty of Cesare’s vision and craftsmanship or in the Orcadian landscape so vividly painted.
This is a story of strength, of survival in the toughest of times and carving out your own place in the world even when the world seems to be turning against you. It is an exploration of where truth is found and the strength it can take to live up to the expectations of truth, when those around you are taking a different path.
In the characters of Dot and Con the author has created two strong women. Flawed, at times desperate but ultimately strong. It is their story, vibrancy and integrity that brings this story to life, will stay in your mind and make you want to explore beyond these pages.
The Metal Heart is not to be forgotten.