Good Reads Revisited
"We are sharply reminded of the tragedy of young men joining up for what at the time seemed like good reasons, but were perhaps trivial in hindsight."
"No man’s land is a place in the heart: pitted, cratered and empty as the moon…
Hidden in a soldier’s tin box are a painting, a pocket watch, and a dance card – keepsakes of three lives.
It is 1914. George Farrell cycles through the tranquil Cumberland fells to deliver a letter, unaware that it will change his life. George has fallen for the rich and beautiful daughter at the Manor House, Miss Violet, but when she lets slip the contents of the letter George is heartbroken to find that she is already promised to another man. George escapes his heartbreak by joining the patriotic rush to war, but his past is not so easily avoided. His rite of passage into adulthood leaves him believing that no woman will be able to love the man he has become."
I'm often drawn to books like this, which examine the brutal contrast between life before and after the 'Great War'. The 'before' scenes are all the more poignant to the reader because of course, we know what is coming, whereas the characters don't. Cumbrian village life in the early months of the war is beautifully described (although I'd question the time it took George to cycle from Keswick to Carlisle) and the author lingers on the calm before the storm just long enough for us to note how valued that life will be in retrospect. The war scenes are portrayed realistically - I assume - and the sense of brotherhood between soldiers comes across well.
We are sharply reminded of the tragedy of young men joining up for what at the time seemed like good reasons, but were perhaps trivial in hindsight. Need some extra money? Join up. Had your heart broken? Sign here and take the shilling. The buoyant mood of these young men, well boys, really, soon evaporates. Equally striking is the effect on those they've left behind, from the prosaic - who will do the post-round now? - to the more emotional aspects, particularly for those who parted on bad terms.
I had a few niggles, though. There is a fair amount of 'head-hopping' where the point of view in a scene changes, sometimes several times. Violet's father's animosity towards his family was set up as if it was going to be a major plot point, but actually fizzled out and became a bit of a non-story. And throughout, I felt a 'disconnect' between me and the characters and I didn't find myself caring about them as much as I might have done. George's story is the most compelling, but Violet's, although tragic, was less engaging, somehow.
For all that, a good read
© Annie Whitehead
Good Reads Revisited
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