Ancasta, a review of the novel by Diana Jackson


It is widely believed that when the Roman Empire ruled these lands, an area near or on what is now known as Bitterne Manor was a settlement called Clausentum.  Whilst this belief about Clausentum and its location is not universally upheld, what is clear is that there was a Roman settlement in this area. One of the priceless treasures that reveals this truth is an inscription from those times, a dedication to the goddess Ancasta, the deity associated with the River Itchen.

The derivation of the name Ancasta, it is speculated, maybe from an older word for swift.  With the name of the goddess as the title for her new novel, Diana Jackson continues chronicling the lives of some of her characters from her previous book Riduna.  With the hand of time moving on relentlessly in her narrative, she takes us along for the ride in seeing how life treats her characters and how they treat life.

Historically, Ancasta takes in the years before, during and after the Great War.  A novel centred on the joys of love, friendship and family, the author beautifully draws the reader into the lives of Harriet, Sarah, little Timothy and the others naturally and easily.  Soon reading its pages is like standing on Portsmouth Road all those years ago in a much simpler, slower world.

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The graceful formality, restrained passions and considered thoughtfulness suggest a time when people had more respect for each other, or at least better manners.  Her characters become a circle of friends and their world an escape for the reader into a different age of values.  To a reader from this part of Southampton, there is an extra pleasure in the life of much of the book taking place around Woolston and Netley.  Some of her characters take refuge with walks long beautiful Weston Shore, much as they do now.

Yet it is this charming familiarity, this almost cosy and sweet life of mutual comfort the characters strive for that, once constructed, is then set against the terrible events of the time.  All the major characters, in one way or another, reap the bitter harvest that World War One brings or are cut down by it.  With little ceremony, with a heart rending sense of loss and painfully realistic simplicity, the war wreaks dreadful damage to many lives and yet the actual goals of the war seem irrelevant or unknown despite all the suffering.

A tale about the lives of women in all of this, the figure is of women calling out for the speedy return of their loved ones, of their men.  The spirit of Ancasta keeps the pages turning as we move to the realisation of a life long, seemingly lost passion.  I lost myself in reading this book and living in those times through its words and hope you do too.

You can meet Diana Jackson at Waterstones, West Quay Southampton on Saturday 12th October between 11.00 and 13.00 for a special event for her writing.  Ancasta is available in paperback or kindle and a signed copy would make a special Christmas present for someone who enjoys a good read.
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