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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 21 May 2014
Beginning in Edwardian London, Louisa Young's fourth novel focuses on Riley Purefoy, an attractive, young working-class boy, who meets the well-to-do bohemian Waveney family after a mishap in the park near to their beautiful Georgian house. Riley is taken back to the Waveney home and is soon taken under their wing, making friends with the children, Noel and Nadine, and working as an artist's model and assistant for a family friend, painter Sir Alfred Pleasant. Sir Alfred, keen to support Riley in his quest to improve himself, invites him to live in his home, allows him access to his library and pays for his education. As the years pass, Riley and Nadine become particularly close and by the time they are in their late teens, and the First World War has begun, they have fallen in love with one another. However, Nadine's mother makes it clear that Riley is not the right class for her daughter, and her objections, plus an embarrassing incident with a young artist friend, encourage a confused Riley to join up with the hopes of becoming a 'proper' man who is worthy of Nadine. In Belgium, Riley comes under the command of Captain Peter Locke, a sensitive musical man, who takes a liking to Riley and is keen to see him promoted. War at the front line, however, is worse than Riley could ever have imagined and in order to cope with the horrors he is bombarded with daily, where he "walks on corpses and breathes death" he tries to shut himself off and exist in an almost hypnotic state focusing only on what has to be done. When he writes to Nadine, who has now become a VAD nurse, to explain his feelings, she responds with warmth and understanding and when the pair meet up for three days' leave, they are keen to explore their deep and passionate feelings for one another.

Peter Locke meanwhile, verging on a nervous breakdown, arrives home in Sidcup to beautiful, but shallow and seemingly self-absorbed wife, Julia, whose only aim in life appears to be to keep herself lovely for her husband, and who is bitterly disappointed when Peter cannot bring himself to put the war behind him and enjoy his leave with her. (Shades of Rebecca West's Return of the Soldier (Modern Library)). Also in Sidcup is Peter's cousin, Rose, an independent and very resourceful young woman working as a nurse at the Queen's Hospital under the pioneering plastic surgeon, Major Gillies (a real-life character). And it is to Queen's Hospital that Riley Purefoy arrives after half of his face is blown off when he returns to the front. Under Rose's care and the skilled hands of Major Gillies, who reconstructs the lower half of his horrifically injured face, Riley's outward injuries slowly begin to heal, but he is convinced that his relationship with Nadine must end to avoid her wasting her life on him out of pity. And so he writes her a letter ...

This is a very readable story and one which I started and finished practically in one sitting and, although I will say that I found parts of this novel a little too romantically sentimental for me, Louisa Young's historian qualifications and excellent research, evident in her vivid descriptions of the terrible conditions experienced by soldiers at the front, and her fascinating information on the pioneering work on facial reconstruction carried out by Gillies and his team, lifted this novel to something with more depth and readability than the average romantic saga. Louisa Young was also careful to show the reader how the war continued to affect her characters after their traumatic experiences and this aspect of the story, I believe, is continued in the author's sequel to this novel: The Heroes' Welcome which is due to be released very soon.
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on 2 November 2017
This is an attempt to write a historically accurate fictional novel of the effect that the First World War had on the lives of those involved. There is some genuinely beautiful writing here and Louisa Young can convey great emotion very effectively.

The constant internal monologues that drive much of the novel do become a bit repetitive after a while, unfortunately but overall this is an absorbing and thought-provoking read.
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on 12 May 2017
Absolutely brilliant read. The story and characters are both strong and bring a heartrending mix of fact and fiction of life just before and during World war 1 , the impact and losses on everyone whether wealthy, working classes or the enemy.
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At the moment there seem to be a lot of novels about WWI about. In a sense, this is really nothing special. What makes it work is that the characters are so sympathetic and, if you care about the people in a novel, it really does not matter where or when the book is set. Our main hero is Riley Purefoy, a young boy who is befriended by Nadine Waveney and her artistic family. A quick, intelligent boy who is desperate to better himself, he is smart enough to see a good chance when it comes his way and goes daily to help their artist friend, Sir Alfred, who pays for his education. Riley is a good natured, caring boy, who is aware the class system will let him go only so far, but does not plan to fall in love with Nadine - a fact, which indirectly causes him to join up and go to France. There, he meets Peter Locke, an officer who has left his pretty, delicate wife Julia and good natured cousin Rose in England.

This then is the story of their war. The horror of the trenches and the feeling of helplessness that the women suffer while they are gone. Often, even when they are there, as the men struggle to come to terms with the horror of total warfare. One of the best characters is Rose, a patient and kind nurse, who sees life actually opening up to her in the war in a strange way. Before, she had been the woman nobody wanted to marry, but suddenly, in a world without men, her lack of married status becomes less important. If you are interested in the role of women during and after WWI I highly recommend the brilliant Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived without Men After the First World War, which explores this issue in more detail.

Overall, this is a very moving read, wonderfully written and with a realistic sense of the horror of war. There is a scene when an injured serviceman reveals his face to some children which almost had me in tears. Novels which are emotional without being simply cloying are pretty rare and this would be an excellent read for book groups, as there is so much to discuss.
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on 15 November 2013
I have to congratulate the author of this book for her research into the storyline and characters of this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the read and would have and have done so recommended this book. I have even purchased the paperback version so I can get my husband to read it, and other members of the family who do not have a kindle. A must read.
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on 21 September 2017
Beautiful story combining historical war and romance without being sickly or mills and boon.
twists and turns and keeps you hanging on.
delivery was great.
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on 26 April 2017
This book really shows the hardships the soldiers suffered and the great effort that was made by the nurses who looked after them. In all the horror love can still be found
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on 5 May 2017
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on 18 May 2016
Ok, nothing to write home about
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on 17 June 2017
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