When I first came upon My Dear I Wanted to Tell You, my initial reaction was, ‘Oh, no, not another World War One story’. However, when I realised that Louise Young’s new novel had been short-listed for the Costa Book Awards, I thought I would persevere. And I am so glad I did, because this is a superb story charting new territory.
The characters are charming and lively too. First off are Nadine and Riley who get to know each other in the studio of an elderly artist. Then there are Peter and Julia Locke, a well-to-do young couple with everything to live for. Peter’s cousin Rose is a spinster with no prospects of marriage but who finds new purpose in life as a nurse at a convalescent home for very disfigured servicemen.
While the war divides Peter and Julia, causing a breakdown in communication that seems insurmountable, it opens the door for Nadine to break away from the constraints of middle class expectations by offering her work. She doesn’t shirk from quite horrific duties at a military hospital and later at the front, where Peter’s and Riley’s lives are changed for ever.
But it is the aftermath of war and its effects on the characters that make the book really come into its own. Rose’s work brings her into contact with facial-reconstruction surgeon, Major Gillies, the New Zealand doctor who was to become known as the father of plastic surgery. The descriptions of painstaking operations offer detail that is both grim and fascinating. Young does an excellent job describing what these patients went through, delving not only into the physical, but also the mental reconstruction that went along with the surgery. An enthralling read offering fresh insight.
Reviewed by Paige Turner
My dear I wanted to tell you by Louisa Young