Our story is told from 3 viewpoints: Rhoda, Peter and Helen. But then Rhoda and Peter also use flashbacks in telling their stories. It sounds kind of complicated and confusing but it really isn't I just have explained it badly :)
In present time Rhoda and Peter are about to hit their 10 year wedding anniversary. Their marriage really didn't turn out the way that they had expected or hoped. They are not close in a emotional or physical sense, and are kind of just strangers who occupy the same space. One day Rhoda opens a letter addressed to Peter. It's from a woman. A woman that Rhoda doesn't know, who talks about meeting Peter at their "regular time." Rhoda is shocked, she doesn't know who this Helen person is but she assumes that they are having an affair. (Not an unfair assumption, to be fair). When Rhoda finally gets up the courage to confront Helen she finds out that it's not an affair, it's something far more surprising and complicated...
In flashback, we find out what Rhoda and Peter's life was before and during the war. They start dating not too long before Peter departs and get engaged a little hastily. Most of the tension in their relationship comes from Peter's parents just being terrible. They look down on Rhoda and generally are overbearing and oblivious. (I did not like them.) They get engaged at the train station just as Peter leaves for training.
Things don't go quiiiiiite as Peter had expected for Peter in the war. He gets captured by Germans nearly immediately. He endures horrifying conditions for (I won't tell you how long, because it's a little spoilery) a long time. Thoughts of Rhoda help him endure but he has sporadic and then no contact from her.
Back home in England, Rhoda dutifully carries on. She works at a newspaper/bookstand at their small town's train station. She also volunteers for the war effort by helping serve to to the soldiers who are on their way to London to make their way to the fronts. She hears from Peter occasionally and then it all stops and doesn't hear from him for a (spoilery) long time. Then one day there's gossip around town that a movie is going to be filmed in their humble hamlet. For once the gossip turns out to be true and that's when Rhoda meets someone who changes her life...
I liked a lot of things about this book. I think the situation that Rhoda finds herself in was (unfortunatley) not unique and it was interesting to hear that story. Life went on, in a lot of ways for the people left at home. I liked the train station setting. An apt metaphor for the constant coming and going for people going off to unknown beyond. What I liked less: Peter's parents. Such jerks! Argh! Sometimes I felt like there was a couple too many secondary characters that we never really got to know about and then they kind of just dissapear or we just don't know very much about them. Overall, a compelling story about love and heartache and forgiveness and war, 3 out of 5 stars!
The day Rhoda Middleton opens a letter from another woman, she becomes convinced her husband, Peter, is having an affair. But when Rhoda tracks the mysterious woman down, she discovers she is not Peter’s lover after all, but the wife of his best friend, Archie Foster. There is only one problem – Rhoda has never even heard of Archie Foster.
Devastated by this betrayal of trust, Rhoda tries to find out why Peter has kept this friendship a secret for so long. Her search leads her back to 1945, but as she gradually uncovers Peter’s wartime experiences she must wrestle with painful memories of her own. For Rhoda too cannot escape the ghosts of the past.
Taking us on a journey from the atmospheric filming of Brief Encounter, to the extraordinary Great March of prisoners of war through snow-bound Germany, PAST ENCOUNTERS explores themes of friendship, hope, and how in the end, it is the small things that enable love to survive.
Includes bonus material for reading groups.
Praise for Past Encounters
“Her characters are so real that they linger in the mind long after the book is back on the shelf. Highly Recommended!” – The Historical Novels Review
Praise for Deborah Swift
“stellar historical fiction” -Orange Prize Nominee Ann Weisgarber
“compelling'” -Westmorland Gazette
“The past comes alive through impeccable research…and the sheer power of descriptive prose” -Lancashire Evening Post