I thought this was a well written and involving novel about the trials and tribulations of WWI of both the people on the home front and the soldiers on the front line. I think what helped me really enjoy this book was that I had oodles of time to give it, and thus could get completely wrapped up in the story line. I am not sure that this would have worked so well if I had been forced to put it down and then pick it up in small doses, but reading it in long swathes of time meant that I could jump in the story completely and become immersed in the lives and drama of the characters. It was a great reading experience.
It seems that I have been digging deeper in WWI lately, what with Downton Abbey on PBS and Enid Bagnold’s diary the other day. It seems to me that WWI (or the Great War, as it is sometimes called) was particularly brutal and that England was completely unprepared as to how to train its soldiers to fight effectively, and then how to treat them upon their return to safe shores. (Admittedly, all war is horrible, but this particular war seems to be so full of cold and wet, mud, moronic fighting techniques, and then inadequate medical care for those who were hurt.) And then all followed up with unassailable attack of the frequently fatal “Spanish Flu” epidemic of 1918. As someone else noted on the web, it’s no wonder that people reacted in such a hedonistic way during the 1920’s – who wouldn’t in such a similar situation?
However, this is me looking back with twenty-first century eyes. Then, there was no penicillin or antibiotics, so infections were bad news. This was the first time that tanks were used – previously, it was all horses – and I can only imagine how scary it must have been for some of these young rural boys to hear this enormous engine come bearing over the edge of the trench. And then, the mortality rate was so so high…
The characters were really well developed, and it was interesting to see how Riley coped with his physical injuries compared with Peter and his emotional injuries.
The female characters were also good – humanly error-prone, but learning to be independent in their new roles as VADs etc. Even if her role was much smaller than that of a VAD, Julia still kept the home fires burning in the way that she knew best, whilst dealing with her own self-doubt and the unknown fate of Peter (who was her Everything). Her choices at the end of the novel were shocking, but understandable.
I thought Julia was very well done, really. Brought up to only be beautiful, she is ill prepared for what changes the war brings, and, like the other characters, she grows and evolves into a different stronger Julia. I would think that any war would affect those closely involved in some way, whether at home or on the front. However, this one seems to have had an enormous effect on the world. It changed (or set change into motion) the very fabric of society: gender roles in society, the role of class, the roles of domestic servants, etc… All changes which would lead to ripple effects to even further changes: the emancipation of women, the admitting of a mental condition called shell shock… and all these changes are reflected throughout the novel in a very natural manner.
I really enjoyed this novel, and recommend it.