Back in 2013, I wrote about meeting Beatrice Hitchman at what was supposed to be a summer afternoon Pimms party in a neighbour’s garden, unsurprisingly relocated to their living room thanks to the British weather. Hitchman’s debut, Petite Mort, was just about to be published. I enjoyed it very much and was delighted when All of You Every Single One dropped through my letterbox with its gorgeous art nouveau jacket. Set in Vienna, Hitchman’s new novel spans over three decades from 1910 to 1946, telling the story of two couples who become each other’s families.
The light streams over the Bohemian plains and the hills around Vienna. The factory windows catch fire first – stained glass with no one to see. The horses are shaking their tails in the royal stables
Dressed in a beautifully tailored suit, complete with cravat, Eve is a walking advertisement for her own expertise, attracting attention in the small Swiss town in which she lives. Julia is the wife of a renowned Swedish playwright, well-connected and beautiful but unhappy in her marriage. Within three months of meeting, these two women have fallen passionately in love, Eve hardly believing her luck, taking off for Vienna with little money and terrified of being discovered. They find themselves an apartment in bohemian Leopoldstadt where their landlady introduces them to Rolf, confident in his aspirations of becoming a theatre impresario despite his lack of connections. When a neighbour becomes pregnant, Julia is pitched into an episode of depression. Rolf concocts a plan which will deliver not only revenge against an ex-lover’s cruelty but the child Julia craves. Elsa grows up thinking she was found abandoned but in 1939, in the grips of a love affair with her rich employer’s son, the truth is revealed. Vienna is caught up in the horror following Kristallnacht and her extended family is in danger but Elsa can think only of Max, reluctantly dragooned into the Nazi Party by his father, blinding herself to the reality of her situation. In 1946, Vienna divided into areas of occupation, a reunion meal is held but not everyone will be there.
That feeling of safety is back in the room. It has been like this forever, since they met, she and Rolf and Eve. Being together, it is impossible to believe how the world has changed
Hitchman’s novel opens dramatically with the abduction of Elsa, just three weeks old, ostensibly rescuing her from the cruelty of Rolf’s ex-lover, but also in a desperate bid to lift Julia out of her pit of depression, details we learn later after their stories have been unfolded. Through Eve and Julia, Rolf and, later, Anders, Hitchman explores the way in which families can be made against a background of tumultuous change and horrific persecution. Vienna is described in richly atmospheric, beautifully evocative language. I have the usual reservations about the novel’s length together with the abrupt leap between its two halves but that said Hitchman’s characters are engaging, despite their many flaws, and her storytelling engrossing. I ended my review of Petite Mort by suggesting it was ripe for a film adaptation and I’m left feeling much the same about All of You Every Single One.
Serpent’s Tail: London 9781788166690 320 pages Hardback