I finished the book this afternoon. Such an engrossing and wonderful read, and a great ending.
In the flashbacks in the 1960s Clara finally gets to have her baby. Suky goes in labour, but things don’t go well. She goes into a coma and eventually dies without having the chance to see her baby. The adoption of Eva is a bit shady, and Clara has doubts when Max tells her that there are no papers. They move to Suffolk, and the thought that Suky’s family might come one day to demand Eva is always at the back of Eva’s mind. Her fears materialise when a year later she comes back from a walk with Eva and there is a BMW there. Charlie, Suky’s brother, is there. Clara takes Eva to bed for her nap, and when she goes to meet Charlie, the man tells them that he is now married, and when his father died, he inherited his big house. Clara feels in her bones that he’s come for Eva even if the man claims that he simply wants to see the baby, which is what he promised to his sister. When Eva wakes up and Clara takes her to meet her uncle, the attitude in the man changes. Charlie notices Eva’s colouring, and it is clear that the man is a racist.
Later in the novel we learn that Clara’s fears were justified. Charlie came for Eva, intending to raise her as his own. Yet, when he saw her and her looks, which showed her origins, he discarded the thing. This is what Charlie tells a bartender in the area when he has had a few drinks, and apparently, the publican didn’t keep quiet about it. Horrible Robert Smith knew, and one night when Eva was on her way to meet Marco, Robert Smith attacks her and almost rapes her, and he tells her what he knows about her real origins. Eva feels dirty after the attack, and she is furious, knowing that her parents lied to her. She wrote a letter to her parents, telling them about her feelings, her anger and disappointment, and this is the letter that Clara finds in the novel was reading when she is clearing her room when they think they are about to sell the house.
Faith doesn’t stop believing that her sister is kept prisoner by the wild man. Joe and Fred help her take the boat, but this ends up disastrously. The boat is rotting and soon water is coming in. As they get nervous, Joe is hurt and Fred falls overboard and almost drowns. Thankfully, the coastguard rescues them. As a result, Faith has a good telling-off, and she has to go and apologise to Sandra, Fred, and Joe, who is in hospital for his fracture.
The little girl feels terrible because she has not been able to go and find her sister. The worst thing is that nobody believes her. Her parents still think that she is only fantasising, and when she runs into Marcus, who has come to the beach as his personal way to remember Eva, Faith tells him about her sister being on the island, but naturally, he doesn’t believe her.
In the meantime, Eva is still kept prisoner. Billy doesn’t hurt her, but she just wants to go home. As time goes by, Billy opens up to her more. Eva learns that Billy is actually the grandson of Jack Train, the man who had a relationship with Eva’s grandmother in the last years. Eva tells Billy that she knew his grandfather and that he died of a stroke a week after her own grandmother passed away. Eva believes that this will bring them closer and even make him release her. Yet, she is wrong.
We also get to know more about Billy and why he is the way he is. He was stationed in Northern Ireland during the troubles. He tells Eva what he and his fellow soldiers went through. What tipped him over the edge is when he accidentally shot some civilians when they were supposed to target some members of the IRA. Billy was judged but acquitted. He was deemed fit to return to the service in Ireland but he just fled. He believes that the voice is that of the woman he killed. I think this story moved Eva and she got to understand what lay under Billy’s skin. She sympathised with him, but she wanted to leave and go home.
Eva went through terrible times. He was sick, feverish, and Billy nursed her. He actually believed she was going to die. In a way, Billy was sweet, but he was also mad and terrible. Thankfully, Eva recovered, and as Billy talked to her, she was also able to tell him things. He confesses to him how she learnt that her parents lied to her about her real mother, and how Charlie Smith attacked her so viciously. I like what Billy telling her that her real parents were her dad and mum because they were the ones who had loved her all her life. This was nice of him, and I think in a way Eva learnt a lesson.
Another moment that is important in her captivity is when she tries to push Billy into the hole where he often leaves her when he as to leave her alone. Yet, she doesn’t get to do what she planned, and instead it is her who falls into the fall. For days she is there, bruised and hurt, and Billy is nowhere to be seen. It is days later that he finally turns up and helps her out of the deep hole, and for the first time he apologises for leaving her there for so much time. He was furious and decided to leave for a while, but now he is regretful.
In the mainland Faith is not very happy. Her parents have put their house on the market, and there are already people interested in buying the property. Faith is torn because she would be glad to leave her school where all the children tease and are cruel to her, but on the other hand, she wants to stay for Eva. I feel sorry for Faith because she feels alone. And when Joe finally leaves the hospital, he, Fred and the others have to go back home. They were staying in the caravan park on holiday, and now it’s time for them to return home.
It is the day after they go that Faith makes a decision. She has often seen a man on a canoe, so despite what happened the last time, she takes the canoe, intending to sail to the island. Once again things don’t go right, and the canoe capsizes and she goes under. Yet, she feels an arm around her, and the next thing she knows she is dragged out of the water. It is Billy, who has rescued, and he takes her to the pagoda where Eva is. Eva is astonished to see Faith, and the two sisters embrace. Then Billy talks to Eva and tells her to go home as the voice has talked to him again. Eva wants him to go with them because she knows he needs help, but Billy refuses and simply leaves the two sisters.
Clara and Max couldn’t be more flabbergasted when they see their elder daughter appear. They knew about Faith not going to school, and Clara was sick with worry. We learn that it was the coastguard that went to the island and got the two sisters to safety. A boat had seen Faith on the canoe and reported her to the coastguard.
The ending shows this family recovering. The experience has not left anyone indifferent, and I think the four members of the family have changed. Eva is now a changed woman. She had to stay in the hospital for a few days and had to tell the police about Billy. Yet, the man has never been found. Max is upset and had a deep urge to find Billy and made him pay. Yet, Eva finds him mulling over the articles about Billy, and she asks her father to stop. She is back and that is what counts. Eva feels protective of Billy, and it is clear that she shows symptoms of the Stockholm syndrome. In any case, it is obvious that what Billy and Eva lived on the island was too intense, and it is true that he never hurt her and tried to do the best he could for her.
I like when Clara and Max sit with their two daughters and tell them about Eva’s adoption. It is a nice moment when Clara apologises for keeping the truth from them, and she admits that she was afraid of losing her. I think this is something that they should have done before.
Marco also visits Eva when he learns that she is alive. He has changed and his goth looks are gone. Eva realises that what she felt for Marco is gone, and she is honest about her feelings. Marco admits that there have been other girls, and when Eva tells him that it is over, he is not too upset. Time changes people, and they are so young that it is no wonder this happened. Eva is not the same person any longer, and all she wants now is to be with her family. Clara and Max asks their daughters if they would like to move, and the two girls tell them that this is their home, so the house is not for sale any longer.
Two important events mark the end of the novel other than the rescue of Eva. One is when Robert Smith goes missing, and days later they find him dead. Rumour has it that he committed suicide when a girl who presumably he had raped reported him to the police. When Eva hears about it, she is sure that Robert would never feel any repent, so Eva believes that Billy killed him for what he did to her, so she wonders if she is guilty of causing Robert’s death. Yet, she can’t blame herself because she couldn’t have known what Billy would do.
The other event is not very clear. When Clara and Max, who have patched up their marriage and are now as much in love as before, are together in bed when they hear an explosion. Max goes to the window and realises that a mine must have gone off on the island. He wonders if the military are doing some testing, and as he looks at his wife, he and she silently agree that it is a relief that they know where their daughters are safe and sound. It is not clear for us readers what this explosion is, but I wonder if maybe Billy was still on the island and the mine that Clara and Max heard was him stepping on a mine and being killed when the mine went off. We don’t know as the ending is open.
I really loved the book. It was beautifully written, and I enjoyed reading how every one in this family dealt with grief in their own way. The one I loved most was Faith, who showed such extraordinary sensitivity and intelligence. The character I think didn’t add much to the story was Sophie, the French au pair. She had designs on Max, and when she made a pass at him, he turned him down, and then one day Clara found she was nowhere and had taken a few items belonging to Eva. I can’t see why she was included in the novel in the first place. Despite this, I think “Without You” is a superb novel and I have loved every single minute of it.