My rating: 5 of 5 stars
WWI, the horror of the trenches in Gallipoli, death all around a generation of brave young men: but what was it like for the women left behind? Dreading the postie’s telegrams; struggling to support themselves in a world that didn’t tolerate women thinking for themselves, much less (God forbid!) working in an office – a man’s job, no less; all the time wondering if he’ll live or die? Could life ever be the same again?
These women were often little more than girls, having only just been welcomed to Women’s Only topics such as the blood of childbirth and miscarriage (in those days there was no room for the luxury of ‘playing at adulting’ as I heard a thirty-something refer to herself recently).
Hart has done the times a perfect justice. She deals with sorrow, loneliness, injury, death and, in what might be an allegory for modern times, mental illness. Her power over imagery (‘”Dead.” His voice scraped like a match on stone.’) and her bare simplicity of emotional depths (‘It was easier to care about nothing than it was to face the pain.’) are not a small part of her skills.
People kept talking in clichés…Men have been dying since the world began and there’s nothing new to say.
But Hart has found something new! She conveys the requirement of having-to-break-out-from-your-grief-there’s-a-war-going-on, that belief of going on for others, that others are depending on you even if they’re strangers. Hart lights up old values and conveys the strength and courage of those left behind that I would have thought was beyond words.
From the poignancy of letters from the front (this war, this unprecedented War To End All Wars, will at least mean ‘our boys will grow up safe and happy and whole, with no fear and no cloud over them.’) to the everyday struggle to wash sheets by hand, Hart captures this lost reality. And along the way, she tells the story our great-grandmothers never told us.
They were all trying to help in their own way, she knew. She had to do her part, so she opened the telegram.
Hart has my admiration for going where she went in the climax: I didn’t like the message that such a decision could be a legitimate path to resolution (sorry, no spoilers here!) – but my dislike doesn’t change what’s a very real topic for many, and she handled it perfectly.
This would make a great epic: following the soldier’s wife’s family through to the great-great-grandchildren of today, who didn’t live that history, who don’t know such a war, yet feel a pain they can’t raise themselves out of; their parents equally unable to help.
I received a copy of this book from the author for free – this is my honest review