My dear, I wanted to tell you – by Louisa Young

I have been reading a lot about the first world war, lately. Having eagerly devoured Paxman’s two books, ‘Empire’ and ‘Great Britain’s Great War’ (which are like a primer course for anyone wanted an accessible entry into that vast subject) I felt willing to take on My Dear, I wanted to tell you, Louisa Young’s novel exploring the social and emotional turmoil of war from several perspectives.

I was a bit phased by the style of the writing at the start, and had to flip pages back and forth to work out who was talking to whom, and why, indeed this style of presentation was deployed. Then, I glanced at the reviews, and a comment ‘…urgent, theatrical, staccato style that is probably best appreciated as an audio book…’ caught my attention and made me look again, re-engaging with the story differently. Then, almost listening, I could clearly hear the different characters and identify more closely with them.

A woman writing a novel about the trenches – so obviously a claustrophobic, largely male preserve – has a difficult job to convey a lean account in prose that works; and Louisa Young is very largely successful. Her use of atmospheric, slightly disjointed prose very cleverly conveys creeping desperation and the madness of war. Her characters are eminently believable, with equal weight given to both men and women.

The main love interest was well drawn, though I found myself pulled more decisively towards the dilemmas of her loyal sidekick Rose; and I still wonder why, with the dearth of ‘suitable’ men, and as a shrewd and capable woman, Rose would feel herself stuck in her position as spinster. It felt almost as if Young created Rose so she could speak through her, rather than through the heroine of the story – though in a story on this scale, which manages to be both intricate and all embracing, all the characters were heros in their own way.

All in all, a worthwhile and engrossing read, which is worth sticking with to the end.


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