The setting of this book is two locations in England and then mostly the worst battles of WWI. The story begins with Nadine and her brother meeting the young Riley, the son of a working class couple contrasting with Nadine's higher class. Riley is adaptable and is taken in by a high class, artist, Sir Alfred, which provides the young couple access to one another throughout their late childhood. Romance begins to bloom when Riley makes a rash decision and enlists in the European conflict, regretting it mightily.
In a coastal village near Dover, beautiful Julia laments her loneliness as her husband, Peter, who would not have been conscripted, has already left for war. Feeling useless, as she has been bred since birth to be nothing more than a beautiful wife, she obsesses with her appearance until Peter returns.
In Julia's home lives the plain looking Rose, Peter's cousin. Pitiable before the war, being unmarriageable, Rose finds herself useful and strong as she works in a nearby hospital with soldiers who are grotesquely mangled. To shock Julia, Rose allows a scene to play out where she explains, in detail, how Dr. Gillies, a brilliant surgeon, reconstructs faces that have been shot away, burned off, or otherwise mangled. Poor Julia listens in fascination and horror.
Although many books are written on WWII, less on WWI, the book gives a snapshot of different aspects on this war. Technological advances in war machines, made this war particularly bloody and costly in lives of the soldiers since advances in protection had not kept up with destruction. Like WWII, the soldiers spent a lot of time in trenches. Unlike WWII, the common fighting for the Allies involved hand to hand combat. The deadliest days of the Battle of Somme are detailed with the effects of both Riley and Locke.
Meanwhile, in England, Nadine bucks tradition and fights her mother on becoming more proper. Knowing her love is in battle, she chooses to become a glorified nurses assistant at a hospital where she sees the soldiers after the initial patch-up. She is a beautiful soul who refuses to play by the pretty rules of pretending war is not happening. Riley's and Nadine's love and commitment develop beautifully and honestly.
In contrast, Julia and Peter grow further and further from one another. The war affects all of the characters differently. Rose becomes more and more useful and connects with humanity better even through horrible disfiguring injuries in her hospital. One character tries to forget through brothels and alcohol. Another withdraws emotionally and wallows in self-pity after a horrible injury. Another character tries to reconnect by getting as close to death and gore and possible. A few characters try to maintain normalcy and social expectations from pre-war. It is the dawn of a new age and all are ill-prepared to return to "normal" after the war.
The writing style was difficult for me. I is often disjointed and two characters might respond to one another in one paragraph. Point of view changes as quickly as from one sentence to the other which threw me off at times. Additionally, colloquialisms for British English at this time period are employed and confused me.
The book is, at times, difficult to read due to the strong correlation drawn between sex and war. Yet it is a fascinating tertiary affect of war. Be assured that the story does not wander into the occupied and/or conquered lands to rape and pillage. Intimacy becomes a problem, however. The language is strong and crass.
Regardless, I loved the story, once I muddled through and figured out the writing style. The book is a definite worthwhile read and the romantic in me was satisfied. It's no happily-ever-after but ultimately the way to deal successfully with the aftermath was a deep commitment to hope and love.
Tuesday, June 26th: A Musing Reviews
Wednesday, June 27th: Lit and Life
Thursday, June 28th: Diary of an Eccentric
Tuesday, July 3rd: Reading Lark
Wednesday, July 4th: Unabridged Chick
Thursday, July 5th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Monday, July 9th: Shall Write
Tuesday, July 10th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Wednesday, July 11th: My Bookshelf
Thursday, July 12th: “That’s Swell!”
Tuesday, July 17th: The Written World
Wednesday, July 18th: The Book Garden
Thursday, July 19th: Peeking Between the Pages
Thursday, July 26th: A Bookish Affair