Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The Heroes' Welcome by Louisa Young

I loved Louisa Young’s novel My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You, which first introduced us to her five characters whose lives are disrupted by the big shooting match that was World War One. Miraculously they all survive the war, and this novel, The Heroes’ Welcome carries on their story beginning in spring, 1919.

Essentially it is about two families. Riley Purefoy has married Nadine at the start of the book, and their relationship has to negotiate the difficulty of Riley’s terrible disfigurement. Riley determines to live life to the full while Nadine is desperate not to become her husband’s nurse.

Peter Locke has finally returned to his home in Kent with a slight limp, though mentally he’s a mess. As an officer, he carries the blame for the loss of his men and cannot sleep for the fear of seeing their bloodied corpses and hearing the echoing barrage of guns. He turns to drink and Homer.

Peter’s wife, Julia, struggling to deal with the husband for whom she has destroyed her looks, clings to her three-year-old son, Tom, or sends him away as the mood takes her. Peter’s cousin and Riley’s former nurse, Rose, develops an ambition to study medicine, but will family duty get in the way?

The novel gives an intimate picture of each character’s dreams and torments, their rash decisions and resolutions. Louisa Young probes Peter’s damaged mind with sensitivity and with interesting comparisons with Achilles and Odysseus, referencing Peter’s former time as a classical scholar. While the next generation offers hope of fresh beginnings, ‘winning the peace’ is a completely new battle.

There is such a lot more to say about these characters. With a third book, Devotion, in the pipeline, this is turning out to be one of the standout series about WW1 and the turmoil that followed.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Heroes' Welcome

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