In my last blog entry I vowed that my next blog entries would be about novels set during World War l. The first in this series is a terrific novel called “My Dear I Wanted to Tell You” by Louisa Young. It is, indeed, a strange title (and a long one) but I heard the author explain her choice of title on an internet interview. When a soldier was wounded it could take ages for their family to hear news of the injury because the mail had to go through the censors. The medical stations had little postcards available to the soldiers where they could tick off little boxes regarding their injury and send them on the way without going through the censors. Some of these postcards had a first line that said—My dear I wanted to tell you. Hence the title.
Riley Purefoy is a bright, agreeable young lad from a working class family in London. He is sponsored and educated by a wealthy family and he develops a close bond with the daughter Nadine. As the children get older, this family (who had thought themselves quite progressive) decide they must discourage this relationship since this working class boy is unsuitable for their daughter. As soon as the war breaks out Riley enlists.
Riley’s commanding officer, a man name Peter, has his own marital problem as he endures life in the trenches. These two relationships develop in different ways as the result of the war. The novel moves between the hell of life in the trenches and the difficulties experienced by the friends and families at home. The novel is painfully honest about the injuries and wounds suffered by the soldiers. It also addresses the recuperation of the soldiers. One of the characters requires major facial reconstruction–a fairly new art during this time.
This is a WWI novel that is more about the relationships during the war than the battles. I have seen in many novels during this time period that it was during this war that the social class divisions began to blur. I read this novel about six months ago but it has stayed with me–a sign of a good read.
New York-Harper 2011