In 1916, a young Leo Sercombe is hauling coal on the battleship Queen Mary, based at Orkney, Scotland. He has left his home in the West Country of England where he spent his childhood, and promised to return to Lottie Prideaux, daughter of the manor. She is working as a veterinary assistant in the district of her childhood, with ambitions to study to become a veterinarian. After the war, Leo is adrift, feeling as if his life is without purpose, not knowing how to approach going home.
“… the boy understood that their great ship was sinking. What he could not understand was why the enemy was still firing. Heavy shells landed in the sea alongside, raising enormous spouts so close that tons of stinking water crashed onto the ship, a wet stench like spent fireworks, soaking and suffocating all the men there.”
“He ran across the estate the way he had come, away from it forever.”
“In the grey damp morning the soil and plants and flowers gave off rich odours, like beings that had been woken and breathed out the breath of a long sleep. Leo inhaled the smell. He tried to hold it in his nostrils. He’d known it each autumn, each year of his childhood.”
“Lottie had laid her instruments in their cloth upon the cobbles of the yard. Now she bent and unrolled the cloth and selected a rasp. This she dipped in salt as she had the bit, and introduced it into the horse’s mouth from the side, and let it lie there, holding it by its handle. Again the horse licked the salt, and bit the rasp, and lost his fear of it. Then Lottie filed the tooth down.”~Quotes from “The Redeemed” by Tim Pears
- The Guardian: “Set during the first world war, the last instalment in Pears’s exemplary series powerfully conjures a sense of bereavement for a world gone by.”
- Kirkus: “Pears’ achievement is in his fine evocation of an era that’s largely been lost and in his attention to the natural world.”
Historical note: The battleship Queen Mary was sunk during the Battle of Jutland in mid 1916. The British Navy, although suffering huge losses, was able to contain the remaining German fleet and it was interned at Scapa Flow, Scotland. Rather than allow the fleet to remain in British hands, the German Admiral decided to scuttle the fleet in June 1919. By 1923, operations were underway to salvage the vessels. More information: Scapa Flow Wreck Site.