My Dear I Wanted To Tell You Paperback – May 29 2012
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"As terrifying as it is brilliant, My Dear I Wanted to Tell You is not a book you pick up lightly. It takes you down one of the darkest passages of human experience and does not ease its grip until you emerge, profoundly enriched, on the other side. I was spellbound from page one and remain utterly enthralled. With her exquisite, nimble style, Louisa Young has re-created a world at war and given life to the silent faces I thought I knew so well. How wrong I was." --Anne Fortier, author of Juliet --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From the Back Cover
The lives of two very different couples—an officer and his aristocratic wife, and a young soldier and his childhood sweetheart—are irrevocably intertwined and forever changed in this stunning World War I epic of love and war.
At eighteen years old, working-class Riley Purefoy and “posh” Nadine Waveney have promised each other the future, but when war erupts across Europe, everything they hold to be true is thrown into question. Dispatched to the trenches, Riley forges a bond of friendship with his charismatic commanding officer, Peter Locke, as they fight for their survival. Yet it is Locke’s wife, Julia, who must cope with her husband’s transformation into a distant shadow of the man she once knew. Meanwhile, Nadine and Riley’s bonds are tested as well by a terrible injury and the imperfect rehabilitation that follows it, as both couples struggle to weather the storm of war that rages about them.
Moving among Ypres, London, and Paris, this emotionally rich and evocative novel is both a powerful exploration of the lasting effects of war on those who fight—and those who don’t—and a poignant testament to the enduring power of love.--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition. See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
I didn't anticipate this war story to be so heavy on the romance, and at times I wasn't too sure of Riley and Nadine's love, feeling it was never fully developed before he heads off to war. This storyline however was diluted juxtaposed against the unravelling of Julia and Peter's relationship, and Rose's lack of marital options, without which I suspect this novel wouldn't have worked.
This novel further opened my eyes to how an entire generation was altered and affected by the war, especially how women's roles shifted during the void the men left. This was especially evident with the dotting housewife, Julia, struggling with the feeling that she had no purpose with her husband away and striving to be the perfect housewife for his return. I loved how Rose, who was never expected to marry and felt ineffective because of it, suddenly felt she had a place in the world.
I was left wondering throughout how all the characters were going to piece their stunted lives back together, whether they even could or wanted to. I thought the ending was well written, but will refrain from explaining why as not to ruin anything, I did find the last scenes interesting and even left me wanting a bit more, although I don't know if it would have even been appropriate to go beyond the point the author did.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I was surprised to read the tepid and even negative reviews already posted. Each to his/her own, I suppose, but I was entranced from the first few pages of the book. I didn't want to stop for so much as a breath. Or actually, sometimes I simply couldn't come up for air. I found the characters engaging, understandable, human and likable. Ms. Young understands her characters, their motivations, their limitations and their foibles, so even when they behave in unlikeable ways, I still found myself liking them as humans caught in inhuman suffering.
In my opinion, what some are describing as a lack of character development is actually part of Ms. Young's point. She is writing about a society on the verge of change - from the Victorian period to the post-World War I era. In the Victorian period, social roles were tightly defined - the role of the gentleman, for instance, or, even more constraining, the role of the beautiful, delicate aristocratic lady whose sole permitted useful function is to be beautiful for her husband.
In that light, Julia's vanity and shallowness are perfectly understandable - her beauty is all she has (and, to her credit, she knows it). The entire focus of the country is supporting the war effort, everyone contributing his or her bit. But what does a beautiful, delicate noblewoman have to contribute to a war effort? Her beauty and "perfection" is not appreciated (openly, anyway) by the only one for whom it is intended - indeed, he cannot appreciate it considering the ugliness of the horror he is surrounded by and which he plays a role in conducting, as he is an officer responsible for leading other men into the horror.
As the older characters in the book, Mr. and Mrs. Waveney represent the old guard, the old ways. The have always existed in a world of appearances, and will continue to do so even as that world fades away.
Julia and Peter represent the bridge between the old and the new orders. They struggle between the appearances of their social position and the reality of the horrors that war has exposed. They have no prior experience of genuineness - of doing anything other than keeping a stiff upper lip. They struggle to maintain their "love", but such love is based on positions and appearances, each fulfilling their roles. But Peter's service in the war, seeing common men fight and die (and die horribly) for their country, and encountering a love of arts in common-as-muck Riley tears a hole in Peter's foundation, rips the façade from all appearances. Will Peter and Julia succeed and adapt to a world without pretense? Will they find a genuine connection to pull them through? Well, you'll have to read the book and decide for yourself.
Incidentally, Rose is also party if this transitional generation, but her adaptation is, rather oddly, made easier by her lack of standard beauty. She has never been constrained by the role of the beautiful aristocrat because she's never been beautiful. All her life this has been a curse and a hindrance, but she now sees that it is a blessing. She has always had to find a different role for herself, and now that role is "useful".
As the youngest characters, Riley and Nadine represent the new order, the successful transition. Having been born "common-as-muck", and having learned the role of the officer and the gentleman later in life, he has always been more fluid in his role, able to be who and what he needs to be for the situation, although not necessarily always what he might want to be. Hence, he is just as adaptable in the trenches as he was in Sir Alfred's studio. Having been raised around Riley, and having watched him learn his role and develop a genuine love of beauty and the arts, Nadine is quick to question - even scorn - the English class system. She, more than Riley, sees through the phoniness and pretense of it all and insists on honesty. "Are you going to be English about this?: she demands of Riley when he is embarrassed by talking of sexual matters. Honesty, as Riley finally learns, is the only way to face reality and, hence, he and Nadine just might make it work despite - or maybe because of - their class differences.
Speaking of faces, I love the use of the face as a symbol, particularly in the parallel development of Riley's and Julia's character. It is difficult to say much without spoiling the story, but it is rich with meaning.
Ms. Young's prose is spare, but evocative. Her tone is pitch perfect as she describes gestures and subtle communication between the characters and the thoughts that fly through their minds. Ms. Young does not beat her readers with a hammer to tell us exactly what she's talking about; she trusts us to take a hint. And she can describe a subtle interaction between characters with just a few well-chosen words, which would have taken Victorian writers whole pages to elaborate.
It also appears that Ms. Young has done her homework. Her descriptions of both aristocratic life and life in the trenches and the nursing hospitals rings true, and I felt like I was there. Furthermore, I'm very impressed with her knowledge of WWI era reconstructive surgery and her ability to convey it in clinical yet understandable language.
Finally, while this book is clearly about World War I, it is just as clearly about more than that, just as "The Crucible" is about more than just the Salem Witch Trials. Ms. Young is also writing to and about her own world. Then, as now, seemingly half the world was struggling with how to behave "normally" while the other half are busy slaughtering each other. How do we make sense when there is no sense to be made? "We" must defeat "them" before they invade our own soil and do unspeakable things, but, as Riley muses, how different are "they" really? How can we trust our leaders about "them", when our leaders are the ones leading us walking slowly into gunfire?
There are many other aspects of this book I'd love to discuss (and gush about), but I'll stop here and simply invite you to read it for yourself. Notwithstanding the other reviews, I truly enjoyed this book and recommend it highly. Give it a chance - at 300 rather brisk pages, you have little to lose and much to gain.
Ms. Young does an excellent job in my opinion of capturing a time and place in history. I have read other accounts of this War but none that captures it so vividly. Following these two young adults and their journey of love and loss during the most difficult, unexplainable tragedies that they face was for me like being there with them. It is written that well.
There is also Peter and Julia, a married couple who have also been separated by this War. Their capacity to handle the atrocities they are faced with because of the war is effecting them in a very different way than Riley and Nadine. They live outside themselves and the horrors of this war. Nadine and Riley are living in the reality of what they are dealing with and share and understand. The author displays how people are so different and are sometimes just hanging on by a thread.
Then there is Rose, a nurse, Peter's sister and a woman most likely to never marry and have children and dealing with all of this in her own way as well.
I truly loved reading this book and can still feel the hearts and souls of these people within me. Fantastic!!
I truly struggled to finish this book, and almost gave up on it a couple of times. One of my complaints is that I simply did not like the characters nor feel any connection to them. I think there was a great deal of the story that may have possibly been edited out. There was nothing written that had me convinced of the love between Riley and Nadine. The author seems to want the reader to take for granted their love is genuine. As for Julia and Peter, well, they just seem to "show up" in the story. Perhaps if I had been told more about their lives before the war and how close they once were, I would have cared about them more.
Overall, I simply did not like the style of writing. I thought the author was trying much too hard to be profound. I understand that she is a writer of Young Adult fiction, and may have wanted to come across as more "adult" here. It just did not work for me.
It begins in Kensington Gardens with the meeting of two eleven-year-old children, Nadine Waveney and Riley Purefoy. Nadine's cousin throws a snowball that knocks Riley off balance into the Round Pond; her mother brings him into their nearby house to dry off. They come from different backgrounds (this is an English story, after all): Nadine's father is a famous conductor, Riley's is a fireman. But other circumstances intervene. Riley is asked to pose by a painter friend of the family, and is virtually adopted by the older man; Nadine visits regularly for lessons. Then war breaks out, ending their idyll just as they are beginning to acknowledge their attraction, at least to themselves.
A parallel story takes place in Sidcup, Kent, where a handsome English gentleman, Peter Locke, lives with his lovely new wife at Locke Hall, commuting occasionally to the City for meetings at his family firm, Locke and Locke. He too will volunteer for Flanders, where he will become Riley's commanding officer and later his friend. Young's choice of Sidcup (now a rather undistinguished London suburb) is not random; it was the site of the hospital where the New Zealand plastic surgeon, Harold Gillies, performed his pioneering work of facial reconstruction on injured soldiers. Young's title is actually the first line of the army form letter sent by wounded men to their next of kin, and each of the characters will either be wounded by the war (though not necessarily physically), or work with the wounded to begin the slow work of reconstruction.
It is not a perfect book. Peter's wife Julia is a less rounded character than the others, and one feels she has just been included to complete the theme. The pace slows down too much at the halfway point, relying too much on inner monologue rather than speech and acting. And then the final sprint seems a little too rapid to be believable. But when Young ends the book (in tribute to the celebrated close of Joyce's THE DEAD) with the words "...a healing silence from which some peace might be redeemed," we too feel the possibility of redemption. Much has been broken, much has changed, but much can yet be repaired.
Maybe it's just a matter of expectations. The book's blurbs make it sound as though this is a historical romance set during World War I. And yes, there are two main romances; yes, it's set in World War I; but oh boy this is not my idea of Romance Novel. If you're looking for a nice sweet boy-meets-girl novel, this isn't it. Think of the book, rather, as a realistic literary historical novel that happens to include a love story, and you'll be closer to the mark.
Basic storyline: Boy meets Girl when they are both children. He's from a working-class family, she's from the upper crust. Events conspire to give the boy wonderful opportunities in Art. Until the war comes along... and he joins up. Things get ugly. Really ugly.
Somehow I've been reading a lot of books set in a World War I time frame, lately, such as Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs mysteries and Laurie King's Touchstone (both recommended, by the way). And as harsh as those authors can be about the War, most often they discuss its longer-term effects. My Dear I Wanted To Tell You drops us in the thick of the battles and how people cope with them (or fail to do so), and Young pulls very few punches. It was during this period that doctors first began to make strides in plastic surgery, for example, and the author tells us how the process worked in detail. It was fascinating, but far from comfortable reading. The nature of fighting a war is written as though it's meant to leave scars, too. "Under the unwritten, unspoken laws of the great mute conspiracy that all of this was all right and not against the laws of nature, certain things had to be not known. Soldiers, for instance, did not mention over tea at home the corpses of young boys floating down flooded trenches, half eaten by rats."
Like I said -- not exactly your typical historical romance. But if you like your historical novels gritty, you won't find a better example.
The writing is really wonderful, in a literary sometimes self-conscious way. "He came straight to her [at the railroad station], following an arrow through the crowd. She saw him coming and the lurch inside nearly cast her off her rail. His kitbag fell to the floor as he snaked his arm round her waist and there was a tiny perfect pause before he kissed and kissed and kissed her."
And yet -- I didn't wholly love most of the characters. Also, I felt somewhat unsatisfied by the eventual resolution of the tale. I'm not used to feeling so unsettled by a novel.
The end result is that I admire the writing and the realism of this story; Purefoy's and Locke's experiences in the trenches are likely to give me a few nightmares. But I don't feel as though I must press this book upon you... particularly if you're looking for nice clean entertainment.