Review by The Mole
The story starts in 1912. Elinor and her brother, Toby, are also best friends and share secrets. While Elinor is at Slade art school and her brother studies medicine close by, she meets Kit and Paul and the 4 of them are to find their lives touching throughout the forthcoming war years. The story then skips forward to 1917 and Toby is reported 'Missing, Believed Killed' and Elinor has difficulty accepting this. Someone must know for sure what happened.
The first half of the story hinges around Elinor and her determination to become an accomplished artist, despite the dependence others seem to place on her; Toby when he's seriously ill; her mother when the news of Toby is delivered; Paul when he returns from France, injured. During this part of the story we encounter some of the truly horrific facial injuries that soldiers actually sustained during the first world war.
The second half of the story is Kit's back story. Kit worked as a stretcher bearer under Toby's command on the very front line and is the most likely person to know what happened to him. Suffering a facial injury and dreaming (or are these nightmares?) under the effects of morphine for his pain we learn of the horrors of the front line and the sheer terror Kit lived under.
While all the horrors painted by Barker come through clearly and impact the reader, that impact is not presented in the stomach churning way that it could turn squeamish readers off, more that they make you think that 'yes, there must have been many people that were maimed in this way and had to live with it after the war' whether that injury was bodily or mental.
A book that is extremely riveting and thought provoking covering issues that many people won't be comfortable with but in a way that makes it totally acceptable. Also, despite, great loss in the story this is not really a tear jerker as it manages to stand to one side on all these issues.
So many books I have read lately I have not 'enjoyed' - but what does that mean? A happy ending? A happy getting there? But that's not required to feel it was a great read, one you couldn't put down and were hankering to get back to and that you end up glad you read and continue to think about after you have finished it. This was certainly one of those books.
Publisher - Penguin
Genre - Adult Historical Fiction
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