A Game of Hide and Seek
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It is a very human, ordinary and yet very extraordinary story, set in England between WWI and WWII and focused mainly upon Harriet Claridge and Vesey Macmillan. The relationship between these two and the effect it has upon those around them is the structure upon which the novel is built. Wistfully and uselessly in love, Harriet and Vesey play a sad game of hide and seek for more than 25 years.
When the story opens they are little more than children. Harriet is painfully inarticulate, Vesey defensive and irritating. Yet they are drawn to one another. They are separated when he goes off to Oxford. She cherishes his photograph and waits for a letter that never arrives. Harriet grows up to marry Charles, a rather dull country solicitor, and have a daughter, while Vesey leads a second-rate career as an actor.
The first half of the story leaves the reader at this point. Then there is a sharp chronological break and the characters are reassembled. Nothing has changed greatly–they are 15 years older and their lives have altered considerably, but Harriet is still inarticulate, Vesey still defensive and irritating. They are still in love.
The latter portion of the novel is concerned with the rather pitiful, often lovely, and completely ineffectual affair they embark on. Their intrigue could not possibly be less of a 'grand passion.' When it ends as the reader knows it must, the affair is not completed; it is just forced to stop:
"'If only we were young again!' she said in a tired voice. 'And might have a second chance.'"
"'I think perhaps this is supposed to be it,' he said doubtfully.'
This novel gestures towards Persuasion by Jane Austen, which one of the characters is reading and reflecting on during a scene of suppressed tension. Like the hero and heroine of that novel, the two main characters, who have been childhood sweethearts separated by circumstances, almost get a second chance later in life; however, here one of them is married.
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