The London Restoration
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a novel with layers of rich historical detail, espionage, and a poignant love story so deftly intertwined. The London Restoration brings post-World War II London to life in a book that deserves a long, slow read so the reader can soak up every nuance.
Theirs was a love full of promise and passion. That was before Brent Sommerville boarded a train on the way to four agonizing years of serving as a stretcher bearer on the battlefields of Europe and before his new wife Diana took a top-secret job decoding German messages at Bletchley Park. Their reunion after peace is declared has only small echoes of their brief fairytale courtship and wedding. Now they struggle to rebuild their marriage while Diana holds secrets she is compelled not to reveal, and Brent carries memories too horrifying to be brought out into the light of day. The one thing they are sure of is their love for one another, but they both fear love may not be enough.
The author has fashioned a complex story of four intermingled plotlines. First, Diana’s expertise in church architecture has led to her continued involvement with an ongoing MI6 effort to uncover Russian Communist agents within Britain and on the Continent. Second, the London churches themselves serve as characters in the story, and through both Diana’s and Brent’s eyes, the author educates the reader about each church’s unique place in history and the value of careful reconstruction of the bombed structures. The churches played a role in bringing the lovers together, and are meeting sites for the Communist agents, leading Diana and Brent into deadly danger. Third, throughout the book, the couple fights for their love despite the deep divide formed from secret-keeping, and Brent’s PTSD and survivor’s guilt.
The fourth layer comes from regular jumps back in time to before the war when Brent and Diana met and married, and to their experiences during the war. In this novel, the flashback technique is powerful, although it does have drawbacks. The flashbacks are meant to support a particular event in the current timeline, so they do not occur in a chronological sequence, but are simply dated, making it difficult to keep track of where in the story’s journey the action actually takes place. For many of these time jumps, I found the beginning sentences to be vague so that I would need to work out when in the past storyline the scene fell. For people familiar with this period of history, there may not be a problem, but the flashbacks did throw me out of the story several times.
The Christian aspect of this novel lies in the characters’ backgrounds. Diana is an expert on the churches of London, particularly those built by Sir Christopher Wren, and she studies the structures to gain insight into the spirits and minds of the builders. Brent is a theology professor at Kings College, and he has pondered religious and spiritual concepts in the course of his work. The couple’s conversations and introspections are filled with their impressions and thoughts about God’s purpose and actions in the world, given the war experiences both have had. The author makes good use of intellectual discussions to lend insight to the spiritual stance of these two people.
This novel is not a light and fluffy romance. The London Restoration delves into the difficult subject of relationships created, strained, and torn by the experience of war. The author adds details of church architecture, important considerations for London’s rebuilding, and the rise of a political movement during a chaotic time. In the end, the novel honors the people who lived through that devastating and inspiring time. If you’re ready for a book that will enfold you in history and tug at your heartstrings, then The London Restoration should be your next reading choice.