Synopsis – The Attic
Strachan (pronounced ‘Strawn’, per the Gaelic) Marshall is a loner (not quite a loser) and accepts it, long ago deciding there was nothing to be done. Her best friend, Katie, says she looks Goth, which Strachan rejects, because she doesn’t actively try for any particular look. She likes dressing in black because it’s easy to mix and match, and prefers Doc Martens because they’re comfortable. She has a vaguely artsy job, a comfortable old apartment in downtown Toronto, a cat named Rupert, and occasional time spent with Katie (when she’s not seeing some dude); she is more or less satisfied with this and has given up on the idea of meeting a nice guy and falling in love.
She doesn’t watch much TV, but she reads a lot. Other than a few angst-ridden poems written during her teen years, Strachan has never had the impulse to write. When she is compelled to check out an attic in an eerie, derelict building, and finds herself feverishly "transcribing" the journal of Celia, a young English woman from decades earlier, which relates her experiences in war-torn Britain, dauntingly practical Strachan refuses to coin the word "ghost". There is no apparition, no "haunting", for that implies something scary, and there is nothing scary for Strachan in the attic (although she does agree to a séance, purely out of curiosity).
She knows little about England, other than the obvious, and has never read any history of World War II (for guys, isn’t it?), yet Strachan’s detailed descriptions of the era: bombings, rationing, the fashions of the day (cami-knickers?), the vernacular - even the music - are acknowledged as being as accurate as if she had lived through it herself. And when she produces a poignant memoir, which focuses on the apparently doomed affair between Celia, a WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force), and Alex, an RAF serviceman, people are bound to have questions. Telling the truth would mark Strachan as psychotic, so she lies, saying she did a lot of research. She didn’t.
Only those closest to her know about The Attic.
Strachan begins to take on some of the character traits of Celia, particularly speech and clothing styles. She has to be very careful with her use of British 40s slang terms, she reminds herself for the umpteenth time. She attracts the attention of men, too, with this new-found femininity, and discovers sex is wonderful when done properly.
Research of British Births, Deaths and Marriages, and the 1911 Census, eventually proves the English lovers were real. When the old house is demolished to make way for a new apartment block, Strachan loses her Celia connection, but she still desperately wants to find out why Celia needed to tell her story, and why in Toronto, of all places. Did the couple die in the war or did they survive and live happily ever after?
Determined to know the truth, she travels to England to try to solve the mystery. There she finds delightfully real people who knew or are related to Celia and Alex, none of whom can ever know why Strachan has come to seek them out. (They’d think she was daft.) There she meets the delightful Sir Julian Mayall, 5th Baronet, of Uxton House, or “Big Ears” as she learns to call him.
But this is another story…