In the last three months since I last posted I’ve not read much First World War related fiction, but I started a non-fiction book called Wounded a few days ago and it is so fascinating I wanted to talk about it.
First though, a few thoughts on the fiction books I have read recently.
Patrimony by Jane Thynne
(Blurb from GoodReads)
“What is the truth about Valentine Siddons, acclaimed poet and World War 1 hero? When her researcher and his notes mysteriously disappear, Elsa Meyers, who is developing a film about the poet’s life, is forced to conduct her own investigation into his past. It is a search which leads to a relationship with his grandson, Dr Oliver Eastway, celebrated academic and Siddons biographer. But should Valentine Siddons: A Life be more accurately titled Valentine Siddons: A Lie? Elsa’s discovery about the poet’s legacy ultimately force her to face her own conflict of loyalties.”
I’ll admit, I picked this book up because that blurb drew me in. It did fall into one of the tropes that I hate in fiction, where someone from the present day is uncovering things about a character in the past, whether that be their father/mother/grandfather/grandmother and so on. I find it such a lazy trope (and an overdone one) and that’s the thing I liked least about this book. I thought the two stories on their own were interesting enough, though I did like the sections set in and around the war more interesting – what a surprise! I didn’t think the revelations and “plot twist” were anything too groundbreaking, if you’ve read enough of this stuff you could see it coming a mile off. I gave it 2/5.
Across the Blood-Red Skies by Robert Radcliffe
After weeks in the thick of it, George Duckwell, reluctant novice-hero of the Royal Flying Corps, is living on borrowed time, watching in horror as a succession of comrades are shot down, burned, maimed and killed, while somehow he survives. Struggling to make sense of the conflict, George forms an awkward friendship with William ‘Mac’ MacBride, an enigmatic Canadian ace, waging his own war against the legendary Red Baron. But the fragile bond that keeps the two men alive comes under perilous threat on the eve of the most lethal conflict the modern world has known.
I like this a lot more than Patrimony for several reasons. There is a twist which while rather implausible, is not as obvious. Though it doesn’t mention it in the blurb, there are large sections about characters working on the field ambulances and with the FANY, something I had read about very rarely before. (The only other example I can think of is Life Class by Pat Barker – highly recommended!) I thought the ending was satisfying, if somewhat sad. I have to say I’m not the greatest fan of happy endings anyway. I gave it 3/5.
Winged Victory by V M Yeates
There is no bitter snarl nor self-pity in this classic novel about the air war of 1914-1918, based very largely on the author’s experiences. Combat, loneliness, fatigue, fear, comradeship, women, excitement – all are built into a vigorous and authentic structure by one of the most valiant pilots of the then Royal Flying Corps.
I haven’t actually finished this book. It’s about 500 pages long and really quite dense. It was first published in the 1930s and I think I’m struggling with the writing style. I’ve read over half of it and do intend to go back. As it was written by an actual pilot who flew in the Royal Flying Corps, it’s very interesting to see how he perceived the war, rather than someone writing from a distance. I will go back to it at some point!
Wounded by Emily Mayhew
I’ve only read about half of this book too but it is one of the most interesting First World War books I’ve ever read. It’s non fiction and is about the different sections of people that helped soldiers while injured. It covers not just the doctors and nurses we’ve read about before, but stretcher bearers, orderlies, chaplains, ambulance drivers and many more. There are so many things I never knew and it gives a really interesting insight to a part of the war that is often overlooked.
That’s all for now, I’ll try not to leave it three months until the next one!