Published: April 29th, 2021
Publisher: Michael Joseph
Genre: Historical Fiction, Psychological Fiction
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
The sky is clear, star-stamped and silvered by the waxing gibbous moon.
No planes have flown over the islands tonight; no bombs have fallen for over a year.
Orkney, 1940. Five hundred Italian prisoners-of-war arrive to fortify these remote and windswept islands. Resentful islanders are fearful of the enemy in their midst, but not orphaned twin sisters Dorothy and Constance. Already outcasts, they volunteer to nurse all prisoners who are injured or fall sick.
Soon Dorothy befriends Cesare, an artists swept up by the machine of war and almost broken by the horrors he has witnessed. She is entranced by his plan to build an Italian chapel from war scrap and sea debris, and something beautiful begins to blossom.But Con, scarred from a betrayal in her past, is afraid for her sister; she knows that people are not always what they seem.
Soon, trust frays between the islanders and outsiders, and between the sisters – their hearts torn by rival claims of duty and desire. A storm is coming…
In the tradition of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, The Metal Heart is a hauntingly rich Second World War love story about courage, brutality, freedom and beauty and the essence of what makes us human during the darkest of times.
Oh, my heart. This book is something truly beautiful. From the moment I read the chilling, tense and gripping prologue, I knew this was going to be something special, that this was going to be one of the best books I’ve read this year. But I was unprepared for just how magnificent it would be. I was mesmerised, lost in the pages, breathing the author’s words in like I needed them for my own survival. This book has reached into my soul and taken up residence there.
This is a story of love, sacrifice, fear and survival set against the backdrop of war. It explores how joy and hope can be found in the most unexpected and darkest of places, and how those who should be our enemies might turn out to be a friend. It is a story of star-crossed lovers, perfectly capturing the heady feeling of falling in love, the power of passion, and the hopefulness new romance brings. She has taken the true story of the building of the Orkney Cathedral and crafted a spellbinding story and compelling, richly drawn cast of characters that feel completely real. It is exquisitely written, with a cinematic quality that made me feel like I was watching everything happen in vivid technicolour. It was like I was right there, living every moment alongisde the characters.
Another theme that ran through this book was prisons. Selkie Holm is a prison twice over; an enforced one for the POWs and a chosen one for the sisters. There are also emotional and mental prisons, such as the ones Con’s trauma has put her in, and the prison that Dot has made for herself in order to help protect her sister. We also see how Dot, Con and Cesare all have a desire to escape their prisons; to live, be free, and find happiness. But they are all bound by their shackles, be they metal or mental, and don’t know how to break themselves free.
I loved the trio of narrators and the different perspectives they brought to the story. I was totally invested in Dorothy and Cesare’s love story and was rooting for them to have their happy-ever-after, even against seemingly insurmountable odds. I liked how different they were yet how they fit together so perfectly, overcoming language barriers and hailing from countries that are sworn enemies. While their feelings for each other are immediate, I liked that the author wrote their story slowly as it made it believable.
I admit, at first I did wonder why Constance had been given as much of a voice as Dorothy and Cesare, seeing as this was their story. But it soon became clear that she had a vital perspective and role to play in what transpired. I liked how her perspective, experience and relationship with her sister tempered the joy and excitement of the lovebirds, adding a layer of tension and unease that seems partly an overreaction, but is also understandable given the trauma she’s experienced. I also liked how it showed us a real selflessness to Dot’s character as she weighed up her loyalty to her sister against her own desires.
But it isn’t just the narrators who make this story what it is. The background cast are as important to propelling the story forward, and the backdrop is a character in itself; the vivid imagery of this bleak, unwelcoming place, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere where there is no escape, only helplessness and despair.
Hauntingly atmospheric, addictive and breathtaking, this novel reminds of the best and worst of humankind, shattering your heart and then giving you hope again. I can’t recommend this enough and even after days of agonising over this review, I worry I haven’t done justice to this phenomenal novel.
YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK!
Some of the photos from the author’s research trip to Orkney as shared on her Twitter account.
MEET THE AUTHOR:
Caroline Lea grew up in Jersey and gained a First in English Literature and Creative Writing from Warwick University, where she now teaches writing. Her fiction and poetry have been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, and The Glass Woman was shortlisted for the HWA Debut Crown.
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Thank you to Michael Joseph for the invitation to take part in this tour and the gifted ARC. Please check out the reviews from the other bloggers taking part.
Thanks for reading Bibliophiles. Until next time, Emma xxx