My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young
|My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Robin Leggett|
|Summary: A World War One love story but also a hugely moving story about the physical and mental scars of the war, both on those who fought and particularly on those left behind. Military wives in a pre-Gareth Malone world with exceptional characterisation.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: March 2011|
|Publisher: Harper Collins|
|External links: Author's website|
It takes a while for the full power of Louisa Young's remarkable My Dear I Wanted To Tell You to become apparent, but when it does, it can hardly fail to move you. Set just before and during World War One, it's a story of love and human spirit against the odds. The impact of the book is in what happens to the characters, so I don't want to give too much away, but it's worth pointing out that it's not for the overly squeamish reader particularly in some of the descriptions of surgical procedures, which have clearly been meticulously researched by Young. The title itself it taken from the opening words of the standard letters that the wounded were given to send to loved ones back home. The wounded were required to fill in the blanks.
The great strength of the book is the main characters. Young takes time to build them up and this is probably why a third of the way in I was thinking 'it's good, but I don't see what all the fuss is about'. But it means you really care for them when the story develops. By the end, I certainly knew.
A young lower class boy, Riley, is introduced to a wealthy family whose young daughter, Nadine, studies art with him in the company of a renowned painter. The notions of art and appearance as well as those of class run through the book with notions of each fundamentally changed by the course of history. They are the Romeo and Juliet of the story - star-crossed lovers who are torn apart by circumstances. But if that suggests a slushy romance, it is far more than that. The main supporting characters are the Lockes. Gentle Peter will become Riley's CO. He's officer class through and through and is married to the appearance obsessed Julia whose only skill is her beauty. Of more substance is, arguably the star of the piece, Rose, Peter's cousin who is a practical woman of no great beauty but with a huge sense of practicality. Nadine and Rose will become VAD nurses doing their bit for the war effort, while Julia flits around the shops and is bullied by her domineering mother.
Young interweaves these characters with some fictionalised versions of some very real people, not least the inspirational Major Gillies whose work with injured soldiers was brilliant not least as he was making it up as he went along. His techniques have led to the growth of today's cosmetic surgery practices, a point whose irony is clear from the book.
In general, Young is better at the female characterisation than the male and, while we spend some time with Riley and Peter on the front, much of the focus is on how those at home cope with the pressures of loved ones at war and on the impact of relationships. The casualties of war are not only the physical injuries but the mental ones, both on those who fought and those left behind.
There are some aspects of the style of Young's writing that didn't always appeal to me; she's fond of a list and some of the passages are a bit 'choppy', but there's no denying the powerful story telling and the book's ability to add something new to the extensive literary subject matter of World War One is impressive. It's a book that will stay with me for a long time and whose characters will live long in the memory.
Already short listed for the Costa Prize, it wouldn't surprise me to see it appearing on the 2012 Orange Prize list as well.
Huge thanks to the kind people at Harper Collins for sending us a copy.
There’s a huge choice of excellent literature on this period of history. The Children's Book by A S Byatt beautifully conveys the pre-war era while the under-rated Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn also addresses the changes in the role of women in society. Both are excellent. And if we may be permitted to make a further, non-literary recommendation, then why not buy Gareth Malone’s Military Wives single to support those who are still dealing with the same issues that Nadine, Rose and Julia faced.
You can read more book reviews or buy My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young at Amazon.com.
My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young is in the Costa Prize 2011.
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Zoe Kubiak said:
I read this book last year after a helpful shop assistant said it was the best book she had read in a long time so thought it was obviously the book for me! The book delivered everything I had hoped, intelligent writing, an emotional story, with a historical slant that give me an insight into the pains endured by those who bravely fought in the first world war.