"My Dear I Wanted to Tell You" by Louisa Young is a beautifully told story that follows young lovers, Riley Purefoy and Nadine Waveney, and married couple Peter and Julia Locke, as the Great War unfolds and consumes their lives.
Opening with a prologue in the thick of the war, the story backtracks to reveal how Riley and Nadine met as children and then fell in love in spite of the class differences that would normally have kept them apart. The war breaks out and turns the world upside down.
Riley joins up and rises through the ranks even though he is not a gentleman. Nadine becomes a nurse. The horrors of war are vivid and highlighted by moments of humanity in the camaraderie of the soldiers, their letters, prayers and even music at the front, reminding them what they’re fighting for.
The quiet moments on the home front are hardly quiet, suffused by the worries of the women, working and fretting over the men over there. Nurses patch up soldiers to send back to the front and wives struggle to maintain normalcy amid the chaos.
The unforgettable characters hold their own against the backdrop of war. Riley and Nadine’s story is so compelling, so dramatic a contrast to the more subtle struggles of Locke and his wife, and yet both stories reveal the profound toll the war took on the people, irrevocably changing them and the world around them forever after.
The triumph of spirit in spite of the odds so stacked against them is an inspiration and a testament to the writer’s skill. Scenes that could easily have fallen into sentimentality are alive with real emotion and heart. An excellent read for fans of historical fiction, romance and great writing in general.
This year marks the centennial of the start of World War I. To honor the memory of those who gave their lives in the war to end all wars, check back monthly for reviews of books inspired by the Great War and look for the complete list later this year.
Discussion: Many books have been written about World War I, why do you think the war is still an inspiration for writers today? What novel inspired by the Great War would you recommend to interested readers?
For more information, check out these websites:
In the United States, the centennial website www.worldwar-1centennial.org
The British Imperial War Museum’s Centenary website www.1914.org
The PBS website features the documentary “The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century” with articles, educational resources, archival footage and photos.