Archives for World War One

#BookReview ‘Half of the Human Race’ by Anthony Quinn #WW1 #suffragette

Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn is a gem of a novel, one to keep and re-read. The front cover illustration suggests it is another Great War love story, but it is so much more than that. In fact the warfare occupies only a hundred or so pages. Rather, it is a character study of England before the war, of suffragettes and cricketers, of a different time, when the demands put on love were extreme. A new king is being crowned and the protestations of votes for women are taking a violent turn. Set against this background in 1911, we meet the key characters at a cricket match. Connie Calloway is a former medical student who now works in a bookshop after her father’s suicide left her family poorer than they expected to be. Will Maitland is a young county cricketer rubbing shoulders with the great ‘Tam’, AE Tamburlain, as popular as WG Grace. A flicker of attraction carries the pair throughout this story as both consider questions of loyalty and belief and where love fits into the mix. When the ageing Tam’s place in the M−Shire team is threatened, Will must consider whether to support his friend
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Categories: Book Love.

#BookReview ‘My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You’ by Louisa Young @rileypurefoy #WW1

This is a Great War story of love/war, of duty/self-sacrifice, of denial of the truth and fear of change, of physical/mental scars. At the centre of the story is a lie told to protect. In My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young, Riley Purefoy and Nadine Waveney, children from different classes, meet in a London park. When war is declared, knowing the gulf in their backgrounds prevents them from marrying, Riley volunteers and goes off to war. In the trenches he meets commanding officer, Peter Locke, whose wife Julia and cousin Rose remain at home in Kent throughout the war. This is the story of these five people. The first half of the book is a long set-up for the second half, when the interesting stuff begins. I made myself continue reading through the first half, and raced through the second. We see Riley and Nadine meeting, Riley’s transition from boy to teenager, his introduction to a new world. Nadine’s father is a famous conductor; their friends include musicians, writers and artists. He is taken under the wing of artist Sir Alfred who introduces him to art and music; good-looking Riley becomes a model for Sir Alfred
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Fred’s Funeral

None of us have the luxury of hearing what is said about us after we are dead. In Fred’s Funeral, Canadian author Sandy Day tells the story of one soldier, returned from the First World War, who felt misunderstood and sidelined by his family. Only when he dies in 1986, seventy years after he went to war, does he observe his own funeral and find out what they really think of him. Fred Sadler has lived his post-fighting years in one institution or another. Clearly he is suffering from some form of shell shock or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder but this goes undiagnosed. There are periods of living in boarding houses, his family is unwilling to have him live with them, until his behaviour deteriorates and he is sent back to hospital. Now dead and trapped as an unwilling ghost, Fred observes his funeral presided over by Viola, the sister-in-law he always disliked. As the mourners sit around and share memories of Fred, he watches, frustration mounting, as he is unable to correct their observations. They portray a ‘Fred Sadler’ which he does not recognise. I kept expecting something to happen; a true memory of the war, an event, which would
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Another World

World War One, a speciality of Pat Barker, is present in every page of this tale of war veteran 101-year old Geordie, living through his final days with his grandson Nick. Woven through Geordie’s story are the threads of Nick’s life, his extended family involving wife, step son and half-siblings. In the modern day there are tensions between siblings, as there were between Geordie and his brother. Pat Barker is an author who does not flinch from showing the human reactions that in real life we prefer to hide: sibling jealousy, sibling hate and underlying it all, selfishness. How these emotions affect this family, from 101-year old Geordie to his great-grandson Jasper, a toddler, is fascinating and often a difficult read. A sideline from the main story is the life of the family who lived in the house where Nick has just moved with pregnant wife Fran, Fran’s son Gareth, and Fran and Nick’s son Jasper. Also visiting is Miranda, Nick’s daughter. I said the family ties were twisted. Tidying an overgrown rose on the wall of the house, Nick unveils a plaque labelled ‘Fanshawe’. This is the name of the family who lived in this house, Fanshawe made his
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Toby’s Room

As the second book of a trilogy by Pat Barker, this can be read also as a standalone novel. The Toby of the title is the brother art student Elinor Brooke, whose story is told in Life Class. This story starts further back in time with a secret shared by the siblings, something not hinted at in the first book. In fact this whole book is about secrets, things hidden for shame, war too horrible to talk about, fear and emotions to be ashamed of, and things simply not spoken. Society was very different then, pragmatism coloured everyday lives, people did what they had to and tried to forget the bad things. Toby is reported ‘Missing, Believed Killed’, a parcel of his belongings is returned. Elinor believes the true story is being hidden and enlists fellow art student Paul Tarrant – who returned from Ypres injured and is now an official war artist – to help. She believes another war artist, Kit Neville, who served with Toby, must know the truth but refuses to say. Kit suffered a horrific face injury and is being treated at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup. Visiting Kit there they find not only Kit but
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Life Class

Pat Barker is one of my top five novelists. She writes sparingly with not a word wasted, but creates a world so real with detail and characterization. Life Class is the first of her #LifeClass trilogy of novels which tell the story of brother and sister Elinor and Toby, and Elinor’s fellow art students Paul and Kit, through the Great War. I first read this book when it was published in 2007 and devoured it. I have re-read it now to refresh my memory of the story and characters, before I read the newly published third volume of the trilogy, Noonday. The story starts in 1914 in a life-drawing class at the Slade School of Art in London. The class is taken by Professor Henry Tonks, a real-life character, artist and surgeon. Barker weaves her fictional story around the true story of Tonks, the Slade, and the outbreak of the Great War. For student Paul Tarrant, the presence of Tonks is intimidating, as he struggles to find his identity as an artist. This is a novel about young people and their journey from youth to maturity via art and love, brutally influenced by the horrors of war. Interwoven with Paul’s
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Ends of the Earth

Don’t do what I did, and read the first two books in this series by Robert Goddard and then leave 12 months before reading the third. Ideally this trilogy should be read back to back, in full sun when sitting on a sunlounger. The story runs along at a cracking pace, with dense plotting, loads of characters, politics, spies and locations from Europe to Japan. The pace of this, the third book, is constant, hardly time to draw a breath. Questions that I had forgotten about from the first book are revisited, challenged and solved. Japan is the scene for the climax of this tale of James Maxted, ‘Max’, and his hunt for the truth about his father’s death. But this is so much more than a single case of murder, on it hangs the future of post-Great War Europe and the twentieth-century relationship of Japan and America. At times things happen which seem a little convenient, a person turns out to have a skill or history of which we knew nothing before, but I forgave Goddard for this. He is a prime storyteller. It is clear he knows his settings – Paris, Marseilles, Switzerland, Japan – and this adds
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: A Long Long Way

This is the story of Willie Dunne, an innocent, who goes away to war not understanding fully what is involved but determined to do his bit. Written by Sebastian Barry in 2005 and nominated for the Booker Prize, it is the tender tale of a young Irish man who volunteers for the British army and ends up in Belgium. Set against the background of the Easter Rising, Willie does not fully understand the political implications of what is happening around him. He is born in Dublin, as a baby “he was like the thin upper arm of a beggar with a few meagre bones shot through him, provisional and bare.” Barry’s language throughout is a delight, something I didn’t expect when the book is about the worst of trench warfare. Barry does not spare punches, at times the action and conditions he describes brought me close to tears, but I read on, pulled forwards by Willie’s life force. He travels to new places, “ravished by the simple joy of seeing new places of the earth.” This joy unravels when arrives at the trenches. “The biggest thing there was the roaring of Death and the smallest thing was a man. Bombs not
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Categories: Book Love.