Thursday, October 06, 2011

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young

This book starts out so gently: it’s the story of Riley, a sensitive working class boy in pre-WWI London, taken in by an aristocratic (but non-conformist) family, educated beyond his station, treated with kindness and encouragement, until he embarks on a “thing” with the family’s daughter Nadine, at which point he is banished; turns out they are only so liberal after all. This part of the story fills the first third of the book, and you’d be forgiven for thinking the rest of the book would concern itself with the sweetness of the young couple’s triumph over class-based adversity.

Well guess again. Riley, in a fit of pique, joins the army and is quickly shunted off to the trenches of World War I--we all know what happened there. And Young doesn’t spare us any details. In the turn of a page the book transforms from a pleasing love story into one of the most brutal war stories I’ve ever read. We watch Riley change from a green boy to a ravaged bitter man who endures horrific battles and eventually winds up with a gruesome injury. Young doesn’t spare Nadine either. To spite her parents, Nadine joins the VAD and suffers her own form of hell as she is sent to the front as a battlefield nurse.

Both Nadine and Riley (and several other secondary characters) are suffering from serious cases of PTSD by the end of the book, and I thought I might be too. I haven’t cried this much while reading a book in a long time. It’s horribly sad and beautifully written and a really great read, if you have the stomach for it. I loved it.

(Book 29, 2011)

4 comments:

Anna said...

Wow, this sounds like a powerful story. I'll definitely keep this one in mind. Great review!

Ms. Wis./Each Little World said...

Have you read any of the Maisie Dobbs mystery stories? Similar beginning but the girl is the servant and she doesn't get involved with the son until the fourth or fifth book. What is noteworthy is that the mystery in each book always can be traced back to the war in some way or other. And much of the story is about the lasting mental effects on everyone who lived through it. I find it a way to think about contemporary PTSD without having to read a lot of serious war books.

On the non-fiction front, the most powerful WWI book I ever read was a memoir by Vera Brittain, who was involved in war work and became a well-known pacifist afterwards. Her brother, fiancee and most of the men she knew were all killed. It is a book that breaks your heart — and it is real.

Anna and Serena said...

Thanks for sending in the review. I have this one on my shelf and cannot wait to read it for the WWI challenge. I've added you to the participants page and your review to the reviews page.

Caroline said...

I bought this book a few days ago.
I think I did well, it sounds like it is well worth reading.
@Mis Wis I didn't know this about the Maisie Dobbs stories. How very interesting.

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