Voyage of Innocence begins in 1938 with an apparent tragic incident taking place on a high-society voyage to India.
From here we go back to 1932 where we meet Verity, lady Claudia and Lally - all on the cusp of womanhood as they arrive at Oxford University. I am not keen to reveal too much of the specifics of the plot because having read it I think that it is best to come to it with minimal expectations as I did (I will explain more of this later.)
Essentially we follow these three women as their lives initially entwine and then separate with far reaching consequences that they not only themselves experience, but that are also foisted upon them due to the political environment at the time.
Along the way, we see observations on their class and connections and how politics influences them, largely through the rose-tinted glasses of love. They also come up against hurdles because of their gender, although they are guarded from some of the harsher realities of this because of their classes.
I really enjoyed the book and found it to be an incredibly pleasant surprise. On first glance, i really was not expecting much at all. Despite being published by a major publisher - Harper Collins, the way it is presented is incredibly understated, cheap you may even crudely say. By this i mean the cover is at once incredibly generic and actually does not really explain anything about hte book at all except that is probably some kind of historical, wishy washy romance. It is also quite cheaply put together, the paper is of poor quality and the spine is quite weak even for a paperback (although the fact that it is 426 pages long may also have something to do with it.) The blurb itself does not really convince you that it is going to be anything very special either. The title, I will also admit, is incredibly blah!
What I found however, after battling through the initial chapters where a number of people are introduced in a very short amount of time and are largely indistinguishable from each other at this time, was a very engrossing and involving tale.
The 30's not really being a period that I am that familiar with , I really felt that I was going through the journey with them as they move from the high-times that they experience during their early days at Oxford to the trauma of political and social instability and just not knowing what to expect in a country which appears to be heading towards war. This is particularly compelling, particularly when you think that we have the benefit of hindsight which obviously the characters themselves do not have.
The story itself feels well researched and convincing. The female protagonists are strongly painted and believable as are the changes that they go through which unsurprisingly affect their whole beings and make them readdress their purposes in life.
The political landscape, and how the characters largely engage and draw conflict through this is probably the best part of the novel. Especially as they initially become involved in this through their romantic relationships and this changes them in a gradual but really convincing way. This perspective adds a surprisingly level of gravitas to the story and is presented in such a way that it is not at all dry, which it very easily could be - neither does it treat the reader like an idiot.
In conclusion, this is a really enjoyable book - a very welcome confirmation of the old adage that you should 'never judge a book by its cover. ' It reminds me of what I enjoy so much about literature, that you can just pick up an unassuming book and not really expect very much from it and then suddenly find your patience and time rewarded.