Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Foreshadowing - Marcus Sedgwick

Marcus Sedgwick's The Foreshadowing is an historical fantasy set during the First World War. 17 year old Alexandra, known to her family as Sasha, gets premonitions of the future. The first happened when she was 5 and she foresaw the death of her friend Clare, shortly before she died of TB. Sasha buries the memory of her premonition of Clare's death for 12 years until the War reignites her skill/curse. Sometimes the premonitions come in the form of dreams, as when she dreams of the death of her brother Edgar's friend, George Yates, in the War and the next morning his name is on the Roll of Honour in the Times, and sometimes they come in the form of visions when Sasha touches something or someone. Since there is no one to whom she can talk about her visions, she tries to ignore them, and continues to ask her father if she can become a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse at the hospital where he works as a neurasthenia (shell-shock) specialist. He finally agrees, but Sasha finds herself having even more premonitions as she helps to nurse the soldiers being treated at the hospital.

Sasha also continues her private tuition and is learning about Greek History when she and her tutor group begin reading the Iliad, and Sasha learns of Cassandra, daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy, who is given the gift of Prophecy by the god Apollo, and when she does not return his love, he curses her gift so that no one will ever believe any prophecy which she makes. Sasha, like Cassandra, sees her "gift" as a curse because no one in her family will discuss it with her, not even her favourite brother Tom. Then one day Sasha dreams of Tom being shot, and she sets off to the Front with little money and some stolen papers, in an attempt to find and save her brother, despite the fact that the Western Front is a vast area and she has little idea where his battalion is stationed.

This is a haunting and moving book that has been well researched and conveys the atmosphere and historical facts of life during World War One in a thoughtful manner. Sedgwick, in an author's note, mentions several books that he found useful in researching the book, and he has used the material well and wisely. In the 14 years that I have been interested in the First World War, I have read a number of modern novels set during this period, and The Foreshadowing is one of the most engaging of them. Sedgwick also fits in the references to Greek History and the Iliad in a seamless manner.

The only disconcerting thing about this book, and it's only a slight thing, is that the chapters are numbered in reverse order from 101 to 1. I'm not going to explain why Sedgwick has done this as the book makes it clear.

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