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Book Review – If I Could Tell You

By Elizabeth Wilhide

A Penguin Original


Feb. 28, 2017

$16.00, 309 pages. trade paperback

England, 1939

Before the bombing…

For Julia Compton, she’s at that point of her life where she’s asking herself, “Is there more to life than this?” Then England is on the brink of war with Germany. No one’s life will ever be the same.

There is the familiar sense of routine daily events where she cares for her husband, Richard,  and son, Peter, with the help of Henry, her housekeeper. There is the time spent discussing her husband’s job, and the regrettable preparing for Peter’s return to school. Time spent with her friend, Fiona, having a drink and conversation. What she doesn’t have is a passionate romance, no personal goals, or fulfilling career. There simply is no joy or comfort in her life.  That is until her son becomes fascinated with a documentary film crew trying to capture natural scenes of fisherman in their town. Julia knows that her interest in the film crew’s artistic director is forbidden, but finds it difficult to resist her need for passion. Dougie cannot deny the attraction.

The reality of war hovers over them like a storm. Fearing for his family’s life, Dougie sends his wife and children to Canada. Which leads to an affair with Julia. Letters are exchanged when they are apart and plans for secret meetings are made. Julia thinks only of filling the emptiness inside of her and not what this can do to her marriage or son.

Then Dougie wants her to leave her husband so they can be together more. It doesn’t seem to bother him that he’s already married. Unable to veil the emotional toll the relationship is causing, Julia begins to become withdrawn. Thinking she can share her difficult situation, she speaks to Fiona about it. In time, Richard learns the truth and tells her to leave. She is no longer a part of their lives.

The transition is difficult as she no longer has servants to do her housekeeping. She feels guilty, not for breaking her wedding vows, but for no longer being a part of her son’s life. Dougie is part of a creative group that she has never experienced, very open, artistic, and they don’t follow cultural mores. They have one party after the other, as well as partners, and Julia is always concerned that another woman will lure Dougie away.

“If I Could Tell You” transports readers to England during the Blitz. It begins before Germany’s air strikes, revealing the tension and fear of what will soon arrive. Soon they witness the destruction of property and the growing loss of lives.

Decisions change lives and can be difficult to live with. Often families severed all relationships with a woman who committed adultery. She had to find her own way in the world and during a war, I can’t even imagine her concern for her son’s safety. The end of the book brings Julia to an elevation of courage and growth, loss, renewal and betrayal. It’s a book worth reading for the time period portrayed. In terms of capturing love, I didn’t feel it. Passion, yes. The author captures her characters’ fears, flaws, anger and needs far better.

Four and a half film documentaries out of five

Denise Fleischer


August 6, 2017

Was given the book by Penguin in exchange for an honest review.