NZ author triumphs with debut novel, "The Silent Village" 23 May 2014
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New Zealand-born author Merryn Corcoran has proved that neither middle age nor dyslexia are barriers to reinvention with her triumph of a novel, The Silent Village.
Merryn has always fancied herself as a great storyteller, but was forced to leave school at 16 due to how challenging it was academically – her dyslexia was yet to be diagnosed. She moved to London in the 1980s and enjoyed a successful entrepreneurial career, before the onset of an auto immune disease prompted her to opt for a total lifestyle change. She and her husband moved to Menton, on the French Riviera, bordering Italy.
It was in this literary haven – where Katherine Mansfield incidentally also found her writing voice – that Merryn was inspired to challenge herself to write her first novel. It was a visit to the 14th Century medieval Italian village of Castel Vittorio that captured Merryn’s muse. Visiting the village for the first time, Merryn was gripped with sadness, and struck by its unusual and eerie silence. She later discovered that it was the site of a massacre by German troops of local villagers tending to their gardens only months before the end of the Second World War. Her 76-year-old French teacher also relayed the story of how her Jewish father had been taken to a concentration camp. Merryn decided to weave these two stories together to create The Silent Village.
I attended the book launch in London, having not yet read the book, nor knowing a great amount about it. I was struck by how emotional and sincere Merryn was when she spoke about it. She explained that the book is based on fact and woven with fiction. I noticed that there were two elderly French ladies in attendance – a kind lady named Sylvie, and her friend. I soon discovered that Sylvie was in fact Merryn’s French teacher; that much of the book is her story. Merryn explained that originally she had changed the names of all real people who feature in The Silent Village – but after reading the book herself, Sylvie asked her to use her real name.
The book is a heart-wrenching and passionate tale spanning three generations of women who share an interwoven story. Told in three parts, Part One is Allesia’s story – Catholic Italian wife to a Jewish French man, and mother to Sylvie. Living in Menton in 1944, Allesia’s in-Laws flee across to border to the safety of her Italian family in Castel Vittorio. Her husband, who stays in Menton, is taken by the Gestapo. When the massacre takes place in Castel Vittorio, Allessia’s sister-in-Law Carla and son Mario are the only survivors.
Part Two and Three weave in the stories of a naive Jewish Londoner, Rebecca, who travels to the French Riviera in 1955, and 55-year-old Sarah, who is tracking down her birth family in 2009. The common thread that links these three women is unexpected, and ensures that The Silent Village is a real page turner. Three very individual, romantic, exciting and at times tragic tales give this novel a depth rarely seen in a debut work. Each page is infused with emotion and a genuine intimacy where the reader can really put themselves within the life of the protagonist. Rather than focussing on the massacre in Castel Vittorio and the villagers themselves – which one might expect from this novel – Merryn has instead focussed in on the ripple effect out into the lives of those who are somehow connected to this horrific incident from a greater distance.
The Silent Village is a first novel that anyone could be proud of, but all the more so considering the challenges Merryn has had to overcome to write it. It is a wonderful piece of writing that I would highly recommend to anyone. Merryn is now working on her second book, and I greatly look forward to reading it.
We have a copy of The Silent Village to give away to one lucky NZ News UK reader – personally signed by the author herself, Merryn Corcoran. Visit our Competitions page for your chance to win.
The Silent Village is also available to buy on Amazon.
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