Set in the Berkshire countryside between 1939 and 1945, The Return is a dual timeline story of flawed and complex characters, Jack and Gwen, who are both harbouring secrets that could have a devastating effect on all their lives. It took me a while to warm to Gwen, but I was full of admiration for her tenacity and determination to give her son, Tom, the best life she could. Jack, on the other hand, is a wonderful character right from the start despite how he sees himself. He has a strong moral compass, and only resorts to violence in defence of those he cares about.
The story is structured so that we only gradually learn what Jack is running from and why he is so on edge. Although The Return is set during the second world war, it is not a story about the war. It is a beautifully written description of the harsh reality of the sheer hard work involved in running a farm at that time, but also a lyrical portrait of the landscape and the rhythm of the passing seasons. It also highlights the contrast between the lives and behaviour of the haves and have-nots. I really liked the ending as I had anticipated a much different outcome. This is the first book I have read by Anita Frank, but it won’t be the last. Thanks to HQ and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.