There’s a line Jimmy Stewart delivers in the wonderful film version of Harvey: ‘The evening wore on. That’s a very nice expression isn’t it? With your permission I’ll say it again. The evening wore on.’
I lost count of the number of times Virginia Baily produced in me the Harvey effect, where I stopped as I was reading just to savour a sentence and read it again. I’m not fond of the term beautifully written. I think it’s overused and more often than not misused. For me, with this book I think it fits. Rather than trying to ladle on the emotion, she allows the natural tension of the situation and the almost febrile state of mind of her protagonist to infect the story. Even when moving from the oppressive wartime atmosphere to the Seventies, I was never in any doubt that the threads holding Chiara’s world together could give at any moment.
The characterisation is subtle and superb. We are left to imagine for ourselves the lilt of all those Latin tongues through the scenes in the forties and all the way up to the point where conversation finally crosses the language barrier. Introducing a nuanced pattern of speech at that point works superbly, further highlighting that sense of brittleness, of fragility. As for Daniele, it’s hard to think of another character who says so much without words and the dynamic between him and Chiara is captivating. Who do you feel for most? It would be enough I think with just these two but then Virginia gives us Maria, and just when you thought there’d be no more room, Simone too. But don’t even think of uttering the word incidental. In these characters there’s a veritable lesson in making the cast work for their place.
As for the story itself, it’s a deceptively simple premise that could be summed up in a few sentences. There’s no reliance on gimmickry or pacey action, no mind-bending plot twists to make you gasp. It’s a line of stepping stones wherein cause and effect are treated with honesty. It’s a story that could easily be true. The quietness of it, the sensitivity with which Virginia Baily presents these events gives it a confessional feel. We’re in on the secret and it’s something we mustn’t ever tell. All you need to do is take Chiara’s hand and follow.
I must express my thanks to Isabel Costello and her Literary Sofa (http://isabelcostelloliterarysofa.com/ – if you’ve not been you should definitely go and have a look) for arranging this copy, and to Little, Brown for sending it. There’s every likelihood this book will be in the top five I’ve read this year come December. I’ve been recommending it to anyone who’ll listen since I finished it. And I’m recommending it to you now. If it’s a thing you like to do I can say it’s also a joy to read aloud. I read it to Mrs Van. The night we finished it she even dreamt beyond the last page!
Early One Morning was published by Virago on 23rd July 2015 ISBN: 9780349006482
You can find Virginia on Twitter @VirginiaBaily