Updated on May 19, 2015
41. ‘The Repercussions’ by Catherine Hall
Two stories run parallel in this novel about love, betrayal and war. First, there are the letters written by Jo to her ex-girlfriend Susie. Jo is a war photographer who has just returned from Afghanistan to Brighton. She is living in the house she inherited from her great-aunt, and in a box of old photographs she discovers the diary of her great-grandmother Elizabeth.
Elizabeth’s diary describes her experiences working in a hospital for Indian soldiers, in Brighton. She sees the effects of PTSD and shell-shock on her once happy-go-lucky fiancé, Robert, and begins to develop feelings for a man she can never be with.
The parts of this novel that I found most fascinating were Jo’s accounts of being in Afghanistan and meeting the women there. Jo is a lesbian – but not outwardly so in that country, for fear that it might limit where she is allowed to go and with whom – and she is often asked whether she has found a husband yet. When she says no, the women there look sad for her, but when she hears about many of their marriages they are very far from happy.
The most interesting scene for me took place in a women’s prison, where Jo met women who had stood up to their husbands and been imprisoned for it, or simply been put away for ‘crimes’ such as running away from a physically abusive partner. Hall does a fantastic job of contrasting the rigidity of Afghanistan with the relative freedoms of the West, without belittling the problems faced by women all over the world.
Homosexuality is also an important theme in The Repercussions, with several of the main characters being either openly or privately gay. In a book that deals very strongly with the relationships between men and women, Hall also shows that the relationships between men and men, and women and women, can be equally complex and heart-breaking.
Hall does an excellent job of humanising everybody – I never got the sense that she was preaching to me but rather, like her photographer character, pointing a lens at particular people and certain situations.
I did have a couple of problems with the book. At times the nostalgia felt a little too sickly sweet and there were moments when I felt Hall was tugging at my heartstrings a bit too hard. I also wasn’t terribly keen on the relationship between Jo and her doctor: it was nice enough, but its origins were far too coincidental and a little rushed.
The Repercussions is not a light-hearted read. It will make you think and it will move you, and for those reasons it is well worth the read.
If you liked my review, why not read the book and let me know what you think?
Thanks to Alma Books for my review copy of The Repercussions.