In 1916 1st Lieutenant Robert Lovett is a patient at Coldbrook Hall military hospital in Sussex, England. A gifted artist, he’s been wounded fighting in the Great War. Shell shocked and suffering from hysterical blindness he can no longer see his own face, let alone paint, and life seems increasingly hopeless.
A century later in 2017, medical student Louisa Casson has just lost her beloved grandmother – her only family. Heartbroken, she drowns her sorrows in alcohol on the South Downs cliffs – only to fall accidentally part-way down. Doctors fear she may have attempted suicide, and Louisa finds herself involuntarily admitted to Coldbrook Hall – now a psychiatric hospital, an unfriendly and chaotic place.
Then one day, while secretly exploring the old Victorian hospital’s ruined, abandoned wing, Louisa hears a voice calling for help, and stumbles across a dark, old-fashioned hospital room. Inside, lying on the floor, is a mysterious, sightless young man, who tells her he was hurt at the Battle of the Somme, a WW1 battle a century ago. And that his name is Lieutenant Robert Lovett…
Two people, two battles: one against the invading Germans on the battlefields of 1916 France, the other against a substandard, uncaring mental health facility in modern-day England. Two journeys begun a century apart, but somehow destined to coincide – and become one desperate struggle to be together.
Catherine Taylor was born and grew up on the island of Guernsey in the British Channel Islands. She is a former journalist, most recently for Dow Jones News and The Wall Street Journal in London. Beyond The Moon is her first novel. She lives in Ealing, London with her husband and two children. She tweets @CathTaylorNovel
Due to unforeseen commitments, I was unable to read the book to post a review here on my stop on the Blog Tour and I feel really bad about that as I was looking forward to this time travel romance.
So, here is me leaving you the first chapter to get an idea about the book.
Coldbrook Hall Military Hospital, Sussex, England, August 1916
Footsteps, then a rap at the door. Lying in bed, Robert jumped. Was there really someone there or was he dreaming? He could barely tell any more if he was asleep or awake.
There was a painful swell of yellow-grey light, and he felt his pupils contract. Ah, so he was definitely awake then. The light receded as the door closed behind whoever had come in. A doctor, by the sound of the brisk footfall and confident knock.
‘Good evening, Lieutenant,’ a man said. ‘How are we this evening?’
‘Much the same, sir. I’m sorry, who is this? I’m not awfully good at telling voices apart.’
‘It’s Major Hughes, the neurologist. You’ll find it remarkable how your other senses learn to compensate over time. Some sightless people even come to know when an object is close by, through some extraordinary sixth sense they develop. But of course, we hope things will improve for you before it comes to anything like that.’
More footsteps – and another stab of pain as light spilled into his head again. He screwed his eyes shut. A nurse bade him good evening. He could hear the hiss of the gas lamp on the landing outside. He said, ‘Could you push the door to, please? I find the light painful.’
‘Come now, Mr Lovett, you must get used to the light again eventually,’ the doctor said. ‘How do you expect to regain your sight lying here in the dark? Don’t you want to recover?’
‘More than anything,’ Robert responded fiercely. ‘It’s the only thing I want, to get better and return to France, to my men.’
‘Yes of course, of course,’ the doctor said quickly. ‘You are an officer recommended for the Military Cross. I didn’t mean to imply . . . I beg your pardon; that was tactless of me. Push the door to, please, Sister. Leave it just a little ajar so I can see well enough to examine the lieutenant.’
Robert heard the stethoscope slip from the doctor’s neck. That sound, at least, was familiar.
‘Breathe in . . . and out. Again, please. Good. And hold out your hands in front of you. Still rather unsteady. Sister, would you please undo the lieutenant’s dressing, so I may examine his leg? And how are the headaches at night? Any improvement?’
‘I’m afraid not, sir.’
‘And you’re still troubled by nightmares?’
‘Yes. When I finally manage to fall asleep. Or at least I think I’ve been asleep. I can’t always tell.’
‘It’s important that you try to sleep only at night, to help maintain the distinction between night and day – apart from a good hour’s nap after luncheon. I’m glad to say your wound is looking better, Lieutenant. Very well, I think it best we continue with the same regimen: isolation, rest, a light invalid diet – beef tea, milk, calves foot jelly – and daily massage to your injured leg.’
‘Please, no more jelly. I can’t bear it. And I’m so terribly bored. If I were to be allowed the occasional visitor . . . ’
‘It really is quite the best thing for you. You mustn’t be overtaxed in any way. We may try bromides to help you sleep. And if your sight doesn’t improve in the next few weeks, we may consider faradism to the orbital ridge.’
‘The application of an electrical current. It’s proven successful in some cases of hysterical blindness like yours, where there’s no organic cause for the sight loss.’
‘Then I should like it as soon as possible, sir.’
‘Patience, Mr Lovett; one step at a time. You’ve been through a harrowing experience. One must respect Mother Nature.’
‘Even when her processes are inscrutable? I simply want to be better.’
‘I know. I understand. But I’m afraid it doesn’t work quite like that. We’re not even sure of the mechanism of your sight loss. And as I’ve warned you before, there may be permanent damage; it may be that you won’t ever be able to paint again. You must try to be optimistic, but at the same time prepare yourself for any eventuality. Now I’ll let you get back to your rest. Good evening.’
They left, and the room brimmed with silence and anguish once more. Oh God, would he ever see again – well enough even to wash or feed himself, let alone paint landscapes and still-life pictures? Or would he be shut up forever in this crypt of shadows, wretched, a prisoner in his own body, shirking his duty while the Somme campaign went from bad to worse, neglecting his men, seeping away from the world bit by bit? He couldn’t even see his own face in the mirror. He felt he was turning into a ghost or a spirit – a figment of his own imagination.
He would sacrifice his art, he promised now to whatever gods might be listening, if in return it meant he might see well enough to lead his men once more. That, alone, mattered. Painting belonged to another life – a higher, more rarefied existence, which no longer concerned him. He had fallen a long way from grace; he was a base, primitive creature now.
It began to rain. He liked rain. The patter on the stone terrace outside his room gave a sort of shape back to the world and made it familiar once more. A minute or two later, through the shutters, came the overwhelming scent of rain on grass. He took slow, deep breaths, and for the first time in weeks the commotion in his head seemed to quieten.
Some time later he jerked awake, his arms flailing at the darkness, as if he could somehow claw it away and reveal the world hidden behind it. He choked air back into his lungs and sat up. He was bathed in sweat. The same nightmare; always the same. The world created by his sleeping mind, with its chaotic images and colours, was so much more real than the physical world.