65 pages • 2 hours readJacqueline Winspear
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“She smiled, and as she took the paper from him before turning to walk away, she replied, ‘Not half. It’s brass monkey weather; better get yourself a nice cuppa before too long.’ Jack couldn’t have told you why he watched the woman walk all the way down Warren Street toward Fitzroy Square. But he did know one thing: She might have bearing, but from the familiar way she spoke to him, she certainly wasn’t from old money.”
Winspear introduces Maisie through the point of view of an outsider, adding to the sense of mystery about her. Jack cannot explain why she is able to address him in his own accent, which contradicts her polished appearance and posture. This leaves the reader with a sense of curiosity, underlining that part of the mystery of the work will center on Maisie’s class position and personal origins.
“‘Them eyes of yours, miss. Doctor said to concentrate on looking at something while ’e worked on me leg. So I looked at your eyes, miss. You and ’im saved my leg. Full of shrapnel, but you did it, didn’t you? What was ’is name?’ For a moment, Maisie’s throat was paralyzed. Then she swallowed hard. ‘Simon Lynch. Captain Simon Lynch. That must be who you mean.’”
Billy’s words here establish that the events of war are key to his character and Maisie’s. He has never forgotten her or the near loss of his leg. Maisie’s emotional reaction, her “paralysis,” suggests that she is uncomfortable with her past and memories. This establishes the key themes of war and grief and that Simon Lynch, as yet unintroduced, is key to Maisie’s story.
“Everything must be described and preserved. ‘You must write it down, absolutely and in its entirety, write it down,’ instructed her mentor. In fact, Maisie thought that if she had a shilling for every time she heard the words, ‘absolutely, and in its entirety,’ she would never have to work again.”
Winspear introduces Maurice Blanche through Maisie’s memories, a gentler example of her past’s importance than her wartime grief. The repetition of “absolutely and in its entirety” emphasizes both his high standards and that Maisie has internalized them. Maurice appears in the text before Maisie’s own father, emphasizing that he occupies a central role in who she is and the work she does.
By Jacqueline Winspear