Saturday, 21 April 2018

Books set during World War One

Recently, it was beginning to bug me that I had read so many more books about World War Two than I had about World War One.  I don't mean non fiction because generally, I don't tend to read a lot of whole books from the non fictional side of life anyway.  But in fiction, I felt like this constituted a rather large gap in my reading, particularly for someone who identifies as a historical fiction writer.

I've just started sketching out ideas and scenes for a new book, and this one is going to be set between the years 1913, when my protagonist marries and 1921, when her husband (who was reported dead in 1916) is found to be suffering from amnesia and living in a private home in England.  Obviously as I have barely written any of this yet, these details may change.  I am now in what I like to think of as the 'woolgathering' phase of the drafting process, in which I read as much as I can to immerse myself in the mindset, and write snippets of scenes in my notebook.

For anyone else out there, who, like me thinks of World War One as a more sparsely populated fictional setting, here is a list of books I have set myself the challenge of reading.

The Secret Son by Jenny Ackland

Set between the early 1900s and the present day, this novel follows up on the premise: what if Ned Kelly had a secret son who fought at Gallipoli, and who stayed behind in Turkey after the war?  It's an interesting concept, and quite enjoyable to read.


The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker

The Lie by Helen Dunmore

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks 

Bereft by Chris Womersley

A Letter from Italy and The Desert Nurse by Pamela Hart

The Desert Nurse will be released in June and I am really excited to read it.  Pamela Hart's historical novels are always extremely entertaining and well researched.


The Daughters of Mars by Tom Keneally

Strange Meeting by Susan Hill

A Fortunate Life by AB Facey

Like most Western Australian readers, I've actually read this one before, but Fremantle Press are rejacketing the book this year and will be releasing an edition for younger readers.  It's a memoir, and shows in great detail what life was like in WA during that time.  I think it's time for a re-read...


Traitor by Stephen Daisley

Wake by Anna Hope

Thanks to Rosemary for the recommendation on this one-- it sounds amazing and I just saw that there is a copy in my local library. 

Hettie, a dance instructress at the Palais, lives at home with her mother and her brother, mute and lost after his return from the war. One night, at work, she meets a wealthy, educated man and has reason to think he is as smitten with her as she is with him. Still there is something distracted about him, something she cannot reach...Evelyn works at the Pensions Exchange through which thousands of men have claimed benefits from wounds or debilitating distress. Embittered by her own loss, more and more estranged from her posh parents, she looks for solace in her adored brother who has not been the same since he returned from the front...Ada is beset by visions of her son on every street, convinced he is still alive. Helpless, her loving husband of 25 years has withdrawn from her. Then one day a young man appears at her door with notions to peddle, like hundreds of out of work veterans. But when he shows signs of being seriously disturbed—she recognizes the symptoms of "shell shock"—and utters the name of her son she is jolted to the core...


This is but a selection of some of the reading I will be doing over the next few months.  If you have a favourite book set during World War One, do let me know in the comments below, and in the meantime, happy reading!  


Sunday, 15 April 2018

Book Review: The Wicked Cometh

The Wicked Cometh
Laura Carlin
Hodder & Stoughton, 2018

When Hester White is hit by a horse and carriage on the streets of London in 1831, she is brought into the home of the Brock siblings, Calder and Rebekah.  Calder, a surgeon, entreats his older sister to become a teacher to Hester, whom he mistakenly believes to be an uneducated member of the poor working class, given the area of town where he came across her.  In truth, Hester is the orphaned daughter of a pastor, who was taken in by her father's former gardener and his wife. Fearful of being sent away to the Society for the Suppression of Mendicity, she plays along with the scheme, adopting the mannerisms and speech of her friend Annie.  The more time she spends with Rebekah Brock, the more she feels a connection to the woman, but the connection is of a nature that confuses and frightens Hester, and for much of the early part of the book, Hester is uncertain of whether or nor she can be trusted.

Alongside this Victorian love story, there is also a mystery.  People have been disappearing all over town, and handbills litter the streets asking for information on the whereabouts of loved ones.  Rebekah and Hester both have connections to missing people, Rebekah having lost contact with two previous ladies' maids under suspicious circumstances, and Hester having made a commitment to meet a cousin to seek employment, finds it strange that said cousin has not turned up in the three weeks since he was supposed to arrive. 

The Wicked Cometh is a modern attempt at the Victorian sensation novel.  It has elements of Conan Doyle and Du Maurier, as well as paying homage to Dickens and Wilkie Collins.  At times the language of the book can tend to be a little florid, but the story itself is compelling enough to make up for this in my opinion.  While it has been compared to Tipping the Velvet and The Crimson Petal and the White, I would argue that this piece is a lot more plot driven than at least the second of those as it is not a novel that functions on quite so intellectual a level, instead choosing to draw the reader along by emotion.  One thing that did strike me as a little strange was the choice to tell a historical story in the present tense.  This is an unusual technique and I struggle to think of other examples where it has taken place.  However the author, Laura Carlin, has done an excellent job not only of evoking Victorian London, but of building a sense of atmosphere that heightens the development of the mystery at the centre of the plot.  Perhaps a little too much time was spent early on in the romance aspect of the novel (for little pay off, may I add), and this meant that the solution to the mystery did seem to come all at once in a late chapter, explained by a very minor character.  I did very much enjoy this book, despite its flaws and I would certainly read another book by Carlin were she to write about this era again.

Highlights of the book for me included the link to real history, such as the Anatomy Act of 1832 and the Mendicity Society, the well crafted setting, and the development of two compelling characters in Hester and Rebekah.

I gave this book 3.5 stars.

Thank you to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for this review.