Book review: Early One Morning by Virginia Baily

Sometimes you start reading a book, and know within a few pages that you’ve got something special in your hands. Virginia Baily’s Early One Morning is one of those books.

In 1943, on a street in Rome, two women lock gazes. One is Chiara Ravello, on her way home from running a risky errand. The other, unnamed, is being forced onto a truck on its way to a concentration camp. With the latter is her young son. As the two women look at each other, Chiara makes a split second decision, and claims the boy, Daniele, as her nephew. Thirty years later, in Britain, a teenage girl uncovers a secret which leads her to Chiara. Together, the two must face up to how Daniele has affected their lives.

Baily’s genius is that she makes you feel not just for Chiara, who we see as a young woman and when she is much older and worn down, and for Maria, who is lost and trying to rediscover who she is, but also for Daniele, who we barely see. In fact, we don’t see Daniele as an adult ourselves, and the time we spend with him as a child and teenager is minimal, and even then it’s all through Chiara’s eyes (and occasionally other people’s). But somehow, I still felt I knew Daniele enough that my heart could hurt for him. His faults are front and centre in the minds of those who know him, but Baily also makes Daniele’s vulnerabilities clear, creating a character who draws our sympathy, as well as eliciting complicated emotions from the other characters.

Early One Morning starts during the Second World War, and gives an interesting perspective on the conflict. We see soldiers who have run away from battle, prisoners on trains, families who have been ruined by war, and of course Daniele. Instead of showing victims from the battlefields, Baily shows us the everyday victims of the war, and their suffering is just as awful. Chiara and her family must carry on living their lives as normally as they can, even though absolutely nothing is normal.

Baily gives us a story about family, blood and that which we make ourselves, and Chiara has both. As we delve into the past and find out about Chiara’s parents and sister, we see why she is so determined to protect Daniele, even sacrificing others who are close to her. I don’t want to spoil it, but discovering what has happened to one of Chiara’s family members is just so, so devastating. 

Early One Morning is a sweeping story, played out in two continents and two different times, each charged with equal emotion. It isn’t a book that breaks your heart. It’s a book that chips away at your heart with a tiny hammer until you’re left a shattered mess, and only Baily can piece it back together again.

Early One Morning is out in the UK on July 23, 2015.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Virago. This did not affect my review.

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