‘Seventeen-year-old Margot Allan was a respectable vicar’s daughter and madly in love with her fiance Harry. But when Harry was reported Missing in Action from the Western Front, and Margot realised she was expecting his child, there was only one solution she and her family could think of in order to keep that respectability. She gave up James, her baby son, to be adopted by her parents and brought up as her younger brother.
Now two years later the whole family is gathering at the vicarage for Christmas. It’s heartbreaking for Margot being so close to James but unable to tell him who he really is. But on top of that, Harry is also back in the village.
Released from captivity in Germany and recuperated from illness, he’s come home and wants answers. Why has Margot seemingly broken off their engagement and not replied to his letters? Margot knows she owes him an explanation. But can she really tell him the truth about James?’
The Silent Stars Go By is a wonderful read that I enjoyed immensely. It’s very good at using little details of the time period to create atmosphere and evoke the time in which it is set, and it was so fun to read through it and open all the little parcels that the publisher had included. I read it cover to cover in one go and was quite sad when I reached the end of it, as it’s a beautifully transportive book that manages to pack a real punch in the issues that it examines.
Margot’s history is revealed through looks into the not so distant past while she’s visiting home for Christmas, where her young son is being raised by her parents as her little brother so that she (and they) can avoid the ‘shame’ of her being an unwed mother, after her fiancé is considered to be lost to the war. The Silent Stars Go By looks at her changed relationship with her family and her struggle to accept the decision she has made, watching her son believe that someone else is his mother and prefer her presence to her own. This is further compounded by the fact that her former fiancé is very much alive, leading her to entertain ideas of a future where she can reclaim her son and marry to legitimise him, only she doesn’t quite know how to share her secret with those it would impact most.
The novel not only considers Margot’s struggle, but that of other women in similar positions, who have had children out of wedlock and are inevitably going to be judged by a society that does not accept relationships outside of marriage, dooming them to be pushed to the fringes of their communities and struggle to support themselves (and their children, if they keep them). There are flashbacks to a maternity home, where other women are not as ‘fortunate’ as Margot and have been abandoned by their families either permanently or until such a time as they return home without their babies. Decisions are made without the consent of these young women, their children taken away and given to other families, and Margot attempts to reason with herself that she will at least get to see her son grow up and not have to wonder about his life, even if that means enduring the pain of keeping her secret and not getting to have the relationship with him that she would prefer. Margot often thinks about different paths she could take to reclaiming her child, trying to reason with herself that she can make things right if she can just go about it in the correct way, yet she slowly comes to the realisation that what she wants most of all may not be what is best for her son or for her family, who may have committed to raising him to avoid condemnation, but have forged bonds with him that are far, far from being merely out of obligation.
The impact of the war is hinted at in the behaviour of Margot’s brother, Stephen, who displays symptoms of PTSD and is having great difficultly integrating back into a society that simply doesn’t understand the effect that the fighting has had on its soldiers. His parents are unable to comprehend his behaviour and grow angry that he can’t hold down a job and doesn’t care to, not knowing the trauma that he has experienced and how it has changed him. This echoes the experience of many soldiers who returned from the war, who received next to no support and were often left bereft of home and work, as those around them were unable (and sometimes judgementally unwilling) to understand what they had been through and the lasting impact of the war on their behaviour and ability to function as they had before.
The Silent Stars Go by is a novel that takes on a range of heavy emotional material and examines a post-war world in a sensitive and compassionate way that promises hope in a world that has changed and may never be the same, and may never be the perfect ideal, but will be a life worth living again. Thank you, Andersen Press and Kaleidoscopic Tours for the book package and the chance to be part of the tour!