Book of the Week

Early One Morning by Virginia Baily. Photo: PA Photo/Virago
Early One Morning by Virginia Baily. Photo: PA Photo/Virago

Early One Morning by Virginia Baily.

Second-time novelist and acclaimed short-story writer Virginia Baily pulls off a triumph with Early One Morning - an exquisitely rendered novel that explores how one powerful and unexpected love can shape a life forever.

The novel opens in Rome, 1943. In the Jewish ghetto, men, women and children are being rounded up by Nazi officers to be shipped off to concentration camps. A passer-by - a young Italian woman, Chiara Ravello, locks eyes with a Jewish mother. Knowing instinctively what she is being asked to do, Chiara claims the woman’s son Daniele as her own, saving him from a certain death. It is a moment that changes her forever as her life becomes inextricably bound to that of the traumatised little boy.

Thirty years later, we meet Chiara in her sixties; living alone in Rome, she is still trying to move on after the loss of Daniele, who vanished without trace in his twenties. Out of the blue, she receives a call from Cardiff: it is a 16-year-old girl, claiming to be Daniele’s daughter. It is a catalytic event that forces Chiara to revisit the painful memories of what unfolded between her and Daniele in the intervening years.

A complex and multi-layered narrative, the novel slips expertly back and forth between two different time periods, following a handful of characters across numerous locations. The settings are beautifully evoked, creating striking contrasts between the tensions and desperation of war-time and the freedom and stability of the 1970s. The characters themselves are a gratifyingly unusual collection - among them a grieving spinster, a damaged little boy, a petulant teenager and a guilt-ridden priest - and each one is imbued with a compelling aliveness that draws us into their orbit.

By turns witty, poignant, tragic and uplifting, this feast of a novel will mark out its author as a powerful voice on the literary scene.