I have discovered Judith Lennox some time ago, by reading a French translation of The Shadow Child (L’Enfant de l’ombre), which I enjoyed a lot. Although I had read Judith Lennox was often compared to Maeve Binchy, The Shadow Child reminded me more of novels such as Atonement or The English Patient. In Before the Storm however, I could see more clearly how Judith Lennox could be compared to Maeve Binchy, although I find her writing and her stories a notch above Binchy’s.

Before the Storm begins in the 1910’s when Richard Finborough, a wealthy businessman from London, falls in love with Isabel Zeale, a young woman who previously worked as a servant. Despite their social differences and the fact that Isabel is very guarded and weary of men, Richard manages to win her over and marries her. Isabel has a secret, and hesitates to open her heart to Richard, but Richard assures her that he does not care about her past, and by the time they are married, it is to late for Isabel’s revelation…

Over the years, Richard and Isabel have three children: Philip, stubborn like his father, Theo, with an artistic inclination and a desire for independence, and Sara, good-natured and beautiful like her mother. After World War I, from which Richard comes back changed and more somber, the family welcomes a young girl in their midst. She is Ruby, the daughter of Nicolas Chance, a man who saved Richard’s life in the trenches. Chance has disappeared and left his wife and daughter in a state of precariousness. The Finboroughs end up raising Ruby almost as their own, while she remains obsessed with finding her father…

In the interwar years, the previously happy and united family comes slowly apart: the grown-up children meet the disapproval of their parents in their choices of lives, and Isabel’s secret threatens to come to the surface and puts her marriage to the test… As World War II is raging, they will ultimately have to reconsider the strength of the ties that bind a family…

Although not quite as good as The Shadow Child, Before the Storm is a gripping story spanning over three decades and two World Wars. I believe that the superiority of The Shadow Child (set in the same historical timeframe) comes from the fact that it focuses mainly on one female character while Before the Storm focuses on many characters in turn, maybe too many of them, so that it is harder to get attached to them. While it seems at the beginning that Isabel will be the one the story focuses on, she remains quite a distant figure to the reader, while Sara, and mostly Ruby are more engaging characters. However, the story is still very compelling, despite its length (600 pages) and I am looking forward to reading more novels by Judith Lennox, hoping that she also sets her stories in other periods of history or other countries…

Rating: 4/5