In brief: Ton Knelston is a young man of humble background who could go far. Triumphing over tragedy, he’s got what it takes to be a star politician but will an affair come to light?
The good: It’s Penny Vincenzi, so there is loads of glamour and detail.
The not-so-good: I didn’t really like Tom, which made it a slower read.
Why I chose it: I always buy Penny Vincenzi’s books for a great read!
Publisher: Headline Review (Hachette)
Rating: 8 out of 10
I generally adore Penny Vincenzi’s books. So I put her latest book, A Question of Trust, on the agenda to read over the New Year period when there are holidays and long nights to really enjoy it. This wasn’t my favourite Vincenzi book unfortunately. It has all the ingredients for needed for a stellar read – complex characters, glamour and a historical setting (1940s-1950s) but it didn’t quite gel for me. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I think it was really because I wasn’t particularly interested in the main characters. I didn’t particularly like Tom or Diana and I eagerly awaited the stories of the supporting characters like Jillie and Ned.
The whole novel centres around Tom Knelston. It begins with his youth as the son of a postman, trying to break through England’s class system. Tom joins the local branch of the Labour Party and there his future is set – in politics and meeting his wife Laura. Now at this point if you’ve read the blurb on the back, you will be asking if I’ve got Tom’s wife’s name correct. Don’t I mean Alice? No, I don’t. This is one of the points that I think got me off on the wrong foot with this book. After reading the blurb, I’m looking for Alice and a sick child but they simply don’t appear until very late in the book. In a way, it kind of ruined the final drama because once it started, I realised that I already knew all about it. Also, I was looking out for Laura’s demise rather than enjoying the time she and Tom had together. My advice is not to read the blurb. If you simply must have one, try this: “the life of Tom Knelston, wannabe Labour politician and his associates through World War II and 1950s Britain”. Yes, it’s boring, but it won’t have you waiting endlessly for one part of the book.
Tom is an unusual character. He believes passionately in the Labour ideal, particularly the National Health Service. But outside of politics, he shows himself as a hypocrite several times over. He secretly lusts after the middle and upper class while decrying their wealth, but starts an affair with Diana. Diana is wealthy, famous and a fashion model. Yet for Tom, it’s easy to put aside morals to start an affair with her. He tries to justify it as his wife Alice is continually tired after three children in quick succession (who played half a role in that, eh?). Yet when desperate times call for desperate measures, Tom wants everyone to uphold his politics. Perhaps I’m taking the stance of a modern female reader too far, but Tom – you are a tool. His lover Diana isn’t much better, as she has a nasty, vindictive streak that fortunately stays mainly suppressed. Diana’s always had what she wanted without effort and thinks turn nasty when she doesn’t get them.
Fortunately, other characters in the novel are more pleasing. Alice was an interesting character, worn down far too early by children and housework. I was pleased when her courage reappeared late in the novel to defy Tom. Alice’s best friend Jillie was a great character. A female surgeon who describes herself as hapless, Jillie is likeable and very capable. She’s also a woman ahead of her time with a career and own life. Poor Jillie does get put through the emotional wringer, but for the reader that’s quite useful because we get to see the lovely Ned. Ned is a paediatrician with modern ideas and what he believes is a dirty secret. He’s gripped by insecurities but also determined to change the lives of his small patients. It would have been lovely if Jillie and Ned could have shoved Tom out of the spotlight more often.
As you might have guessed, this is a very character driven novel. A lot does happen over period of the book, but it’s always for the characters. While this isn’t my favourite Penny Vincenzi novel, it’s still incredibly well written and an interesting read.