The BUZZ: Winspear is best known for her popular Maisie Dobbs mystery series, so this novel (published this month) is a rare treat.
The GIST: The story opens in 1914, on the eve of Great Britain’s entry into World War I. It is an in-between time, when the innocence of life in country towns is giving way to unrest in cities. Two friends, Kezia and Thea, are caught between these worlds. Vicar’s daughter Kezia will give up her career to marry Thea’s brother, Tom, and live on their farm. Thea will stay in London, work as a teacher, and join the swelling ranks of the suffragists. The declaration of war changes everyone’s plans and, ultimately, their lives.
The WRITING: Crisp and resolute. Books about war are difficult reads – the horrors and human suffering are on full display. Winspear balances life in the trenches with life on the home front; her story is enriched by beautifully drawn characters in both places and the attention she pays to the details of their lives. Those at home have to run the farms and sacrifice for the war effort, all the while dreading the approach of the postman’s official envelopes carrying bad news from the front. While they worry and wait, they must keep up appearances, carefully managing the story they tell their loved ones far from home. This is Winspear’s central, poignant theme – not war itself, but the necessary lies that unwittingly become part of the war effort.
BUY or BORROW?: Buy. Sad as it was, I’ll be reading this one again. Winspear provides a compelling perspective on WWI, where the soldiers are secondary to the world they left behind. Although she wraps up her story neatly, she leaves her reader to answer necessary and profound questions about the real purpose of any war and The Great War in particular.
She wept because she was powerless against the monsters of war and want. She felt trapped by her own passion… What irony – that the only way she could make amends with herself was to go to war.