A grey dawn in 1943: on a street in Rome, two young women, complete strangers to each other, lock eyes for a single moment.One of the women, Chiara Ravello, is about to flee the occupied city for the safety of her grandparents' house in the hills. The other has been herded on to a truck with her husband and their young children, and will shortly be driven off into the darkness.In that endless-seeming moment, before she has time to think about what she is doing, Chiara makes a decision that changes her life for ever. Loudly claiming the woman's son as her own nephew, she demands his immediate return; only as the trucks depart does she begin to realize what she has done. She is twenty-seven, single, with a sister who needs her constant care, a hazardous journey ahead of her, and now a child in her charge - a child with no papers who refuses to speak and gives every indication that he will bolt at the first opportunity.Three decades later, Chiara lives alone in Rome, a self-contained, self-possessed woman working as a translator and to all appearances quite content with a leife which revolves around work, friends, music and the theatre. But always in the background is the shadow of Daniele, the boy from the truck, whose absence haunts her every moment. Gradually we learn of the havoc wrought on Chiara, her family and her friends by the boy she rescued, and how he eventually broke her heart. And when she receives a phone call from a teenage girl named Maria, claiming to be Daniele's daughter, Chiara knows that it is time for her to face up to the past.
Early One Morning by Virginia Baily was published on 23 July 2015 by Virago and is the author's second novel.
The opening chapter of Early One Morning takes place on a Rome street in October 1943. It is a haunting and poignant chapter that sets the pace for a story that spans decades and considers the consequences of a spur of the moment action.
Chiara is grieving for her parents and her fiance, all victims of the war raging in Europe. Chiara is now responsible for her sister Cecilia who is unwell and suffers from fits. They plan to leave the city and live in their grandparent's house, away from the fighting. When Chiara makes a snap decision, and finds herself the guardian of a small boy; snatched away from certain death, as his family are taken away to a concentration camp. Her life changes, as does that of her young charge Daniele.
In Wales, in 1973, sixteen-year-old Maria discovers that she is not who she thought she was. When Maria contacts her, Chiara's memories of Daniele and his effect on her life are re awoken, and she now has to consider her past.
Although Early One Morning is set during the War, it is not a war novel, nor is it a Holocaust novel. It is a gently paced and emotive journey, travelling alongside larger than life, beautifully created characters and set in a wonderfully detailed place.
Virginia Baily's voice is very assured, she writes with an air of authority and authenticity, and creates people and places that are captivating. This could have been a story of joy and selflessness, it could have been a story of reunions and sentimentality, but it isn't. Chiara can be a obstinate and prickly character. Daniele is difficult, with issues that simmer just beneath the surface, resulting in heartache and regrets. Despite this, I fell in love with Chiara, and especially resonated with her struggle to quit her smoking habit which the author describes so very very well.
Early One Morning is a story to be savoured. Filled with characters who are far from perfect people, who complement and contrast so well, it really is incredibly well written, the pages fly by so quickly, the story totally consumed me. I was left with lots of questions about identity, about upbringing and parental influence, and how our lives are shaped by those around us.
Huge thanks to Ursula at Virago who sent my copy for review.
This is Virginia Baily's second novel. Her first, Africa Junction (Harvill Secker), won the McKitterick prize in 2012.
She holds a PhD and MA in English from the University of Exeter.
She founded and co-edits Riptide, a short-story journal.
She is also the editor of the political series of the Africa Research Bulletin.
She lives in Exeter, Devon.
Follow her on Twitter @GinnyBaily