Top critical review
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Engaging period drama (three and a half stars)
on 16 August 2014
Lilly, or Lady Elizabeth as she is formally known, hails from an esteemed aristocratic family, used to every manner of luxury; yet her privileged lifestyle comes at a cost. It often seems to Lilly as though her entire life is dictated by her mother, and she finds herself frustrated by the constant restrictions and limitations she faces. When war breaks out in 1914, however, Lilly is absolutely determined to do her bit, whatever her mother thinks! Cut off from her family after an act of disobedience, Lilly joins the WAAC, and finds herself posted to the front lines of France as an ambulance driver. Though accosted by horrors she could hardly even have imagined, and life in France a far cry to that which she has been used to, Lilly embraces her position and making new friends begins to shine and feel a new sense of purpose. Furthermore, when her path meets with Robbie's, a friend of her brother's and skilled surgeon at the base she is sent to, a tender and aching romance ignites between the two; yet will it survive amidst such brutality and horror?
Reading Somewhere in France was a little reminiscent of the recent BBC series The Crimson Field, which I enjoyed immensely, and which perhaps helped me better picture the setting that Lilly finds herself cast into. Furthermore, with so much attention currently on the Centenary, I thought this made an engaging read, and liked the exploration of women's roles and input during the war. Robson has evidently done her research, and whilst I was aware of women nursing at the Front, I hadn't previously known much about women acting as ambulance drivers in WW1, and as such found this informative. Furthermore, Robson does a commendable job of recreating life at the base hospital; the endless work of the surgeons and nurses, and the horrors of the wounds afflicting the men.
Naturally, this is a work of fiction, however, and she incorporates Lilly's own story into the world events around her well. Lilly as the central character is easy to like, with her determination and spirit; though I'm not sure that a lady of her upbringing could so easily have adjusted to such a different way of life as Lilly does, or that she would have been so bold. The romance is engaging; and realistic with regards to the fact that I could understand Robbie's inner struggles and reasoning for evading Lilly at times. Yes, at times the love story is a little saccharine and contrived; however, if you're a fan of period drama than you'll probably like it, and the book overall.
Compared to some of the other literature around on WW1, this may come across as a little light-weight, and certainly it doesn't go into graphic detail into the horrors of war or make for any profound read; however, overall I think it strikes a good balance between shedding some light on a remarkable period of history, and in particular the role women took, whilst at the same time making for an engaging romance and escapist read.