This haunting and yet uplifting novel is much more than it seems. It spans a period of close to a hundred years, in places including colonial Malta and Edwardian England, and quietly constructs a character driven plot that steadily builds in intensity.
The characters, especially Liljana, are tangibly real. Each of them is flawed, makes mistakes and has to live with the consequences. Perhaps the one thread that unites them all is fear – each character fears different things because of their past and traumas they have experienced – yet facing and overcoming these fears is the struggle that each of them face and must overcome.
Fears, trauma and mental illness are all dealt with here in a myriad of ways, through very different characters, and even the characters you do not like – Susan Burnett comes to mind – you are compelled to feel compassion for because of their circumstances and genuine unhappiness.
That is not to say that this is a depressing novel. Certainly there are a number of tragedies that occur, some which highlight the ridiculous nature of war and the fallen nature of humanity, but de Maria uses these tragedies to plant seeds of hope which, bear fruit and ultimately result in a happiness, and love, which a number of the characters finally feel worthy to accept for themselves.
Despite the contemporary character of Kristjana being the apparent lead character, the novel belongs to Liljana, who inspires the former in many ways, despite their never having met. Kristjana hears her story through an intermediary, Liljana’s son Leo who is terminally ill.
De Maria evokes time and place effectively, her descriptions of sights and smells are easily accessible and are accentuated by her lyrical style of prose and deft use of metaphors. Her depiction of social mores through the personalities of minor characters, some a little exaggerated but not overly so, is fantastic.
The underlying current of faith, belief and Catholicism is inherently tangible, yet not in an unrealistic way. As I mentioned earlier, though the characters makes mistakes and sin, there are times where they make courageous decisions because they know it is the right thing to do.
I was hooked from the start and read the latter half of the novel in an evening because I really couldn’t leave it aside without wanting to return to the narrative as soon as possible.
“We’ll Never Tell Them” is available from Ignatius Press.
About the Author: I am a reformed perfectionist who is now a stay at home mum with five children under nine years of age. I am a qualified journalist and graphic designer with a decided creative streak, and run a hobby business called Emily Shaw Design + Write. I will attempt most craft activities and love to write about topical - and especially controversial - issues.