480 pages, Amazon Digital Services
Review by J. S. Colley
The Long Shadow is an historical novel set in England and Greece. The storyline spans two generations, beginning just before the start of the World Wars. It’s about family secrets, about those not-spoken-about things that lie just under the surface in an oft-failed attempt to spare heartache and embarrassment.
Andrew, the son of Dorothy and a mysterious "Greek officer and spy," makes a decision that will alter his life, and those closest to him. As a child, he glimpses a photo of a man he assumes is his father. His mother keeps the memento in a box in her childhood bedroom. While Andrew is visiting his grandmother over Christmas holiday, he decides to examine the contents more closely in an attempt to learn more about the man. He not only finds the photo, but his mother’s diary as well. Knowing it is wrong, Andrew takes the diary to his room and reads it anyway.
The diary entries comprise the middle section of the novel and explains, in vivid detail, his mother’s life in England just before the beginning of World War I and as a nurse stationed near the Greek village of Salonika. The narrative provides insight into life in a WWI medical camp under harsh conditions, and the horrors of war for soldiers as well as for the civilians living in the places they occupy.
The use of diary entries to advance a story is not a new one, and I wondered at the narrative-like quality of Dorothy’s musings until I came across an explanation by the author. Here is what Proctor tells Lucy Walton during in an interview in Female First:
Not at all difficult. It came naturally, plus I had all those real diaries to base my ideas on. I tried not to let the language appear too stilted but needed to give the feel of the slightly formal way people expressed themselves in the early 1900’s. Naturally, no one would write a diary that was quite as detailed as Dorothy’s! It’s simply a plot device to tell the story in the first person and give the atmosphere of the Greek hospital camp, plus to tell Dorothy’s love story. I felt it was best to write the diary from the start to finish of her account rather than jump back and forth as many books tend to do. Basically I couldn’t bear to tear myself away from Dorothy’s story!
A lot of books are using diary entries as a means of telling a story now, so was this something you set out to use in the early stages of writing this book?
Yes, it was a necessary part of the story because Andrew discovers this diary and it opens his eyes to why his past is such a mystery and never spoken of by his mother or relations.
To be honest, I couldn’t think of another way to relay Dorothy’s story, and Proctor used this time-honored device effectively.
The last section of the book deals with the ramification of Andrew’s reading the diary. As any young man would do, he sets off, with all the impetuousness and intensity of youth, to find out everything about the father he never knew. Along the way, he experiences life as he never would have back home and meets people who broaden his perspective of the world. Andrew makes mistakes but, more importantly, he learns how to forgive and be forgiven.
The Long Shadow is rich in detail, history, and insight into human nature. Above all, it is a love story—love of family, country, fellow man, and romantic love. I enjoyed it immensely.