The Foreshadowing tells the story of a girl, Alexandra, who is a sort of Cassandra: she can foresee the imminent death of people with whom she comes into contact. But of course, no one wants to hear her predictions, and no one believes her.
I just read the following article at the BBC website, before reading Marcus Sedgewick’s story of World War One horror and supernatural intervention. And the essay definitely colored my reading of the book.
First the article: World War One: Misrepresentation of a Conflict by Dr Dan Todman. Dr. Todman asks the question: “Is the traditional tale of ‘stupid generals, pointless attacks and universal death’ a fair representation of a war celebrated in 1918 as a great national deliverance?”
His answer: “Sassoon and Wilfred Owen could be used to evoke an emotional reaction against war which engaged students and satisfied teachers, but which utterly misrepresented the feelings of most Britons who lived through the war years.”
If Dr. Todman is right, then Marcus Sedgewick’s book, The Foreshadowing, totally buys into that misrepresentation, as does most of the fiction I’ve read about World War One and its aftermath. The protagonist, Alexandra, who has disguised herself as a nurse in order to rescue her brother from her vatic vision of his impending death in battle, speculates about a Tommy she meets along the way: “Presumably he had killed at least one man. Maybe several. He was a friendly man, he seemed very ordinary, kind even, but he didn’t seem to be bothered by what he’s done. And when he got to the German trenches he must have met German soldiers, who would have killed him too, if they could. I wondered if either Englishman or German had the slightest idea what they were killing each other for.”
All of the characters in the book seem to have little or no motivation for going to war other than honor and the desire to “do my bit”. Alexandra’s father tells her brothers Edgar and Tom that they must”do their bit”. And Tom later tells Alexandra that he came to war to die, no purpose at all except slow suicide.
Alexandra is the only one with a purpose: to change the future that she has already seen in a vision and to save Tom’s life. She pursues that purpose with single-minded determination and with the help of a friend, Jack, who hares her gift/curse of prophetic vision. The picture of what World War One was really about and how the soldiers who fought there really experienced it may be flawed—apparently one can re-write the past–but the story about whether one can or should try to change the future is suspenseful and intriguing with a surprise ending that made me gasp and appreciate.
Recommended, but the pace is slow at first. And the chapters are very short, a page and a half or two, a device I found annoying. Others probably won’t notice. I did become impatient with Alexandra way before she became impatient with herself.