My Dear I Wanted to Tell You

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My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young, book reviewThis moving historical novel tells the story of 5 people during World War I, and the opportunities, dangers and changes they face.

Working class Riley Purefoy has had a grammar school education, and an insight into upper middle class artistic life. He has known Nadine Waveney since they met playing in Kensington Gardens as children, but her wealthy parents’ bohemian principles have their limits, and when they suspect a romantic attraction the two are kept apart. Nadine wants to study art at college but her mother is concerned that she shouldn’t jeopardise her prospects of a suitable marriage. Riley enlists and Nadine signs up as a VAD, a volunteer nurse.

Peter Locke is Riley’s commanding officer, a rather sensitive soul, perhaps too sensitive. Julia is his beautiful wife, but what does a woman for whom this description has been a full time occupation do when he is away from her? Rose is Peter’s plain cousin, for whom the war offers the chance to be a person making a valuable contribution, not just a spinster.

The title is taken from a form letter designed to help wounded soldiers write to their loved ones, and letters to and from the characters are used throughout the novel, giving variety and immediacy to the narrative and shaping how we see the characters. Peter and Julia’s letters are significant for showing how little they know how to communicate with each other, and how far apart their worlds are now. Riley and Nadine exchange more interesting letters, and I really liked Nadine’s willingness to tell Riley how she felt, including expressing anger with him as well as love.

Many of the ingredients of Louisa Young’s novel are familiar to anyone who has read much about WWI, but I found it a powerful, absorbing page turner. I liked Riley and Nadine much more than Peter and the foolish Julia. I would have liked to see Rose have more of a story in her own right; I felt that she stayed more of an observer and commentator on the stories of others in the novel.

Clearly Young has researched extensively, and she uses this to good effect in informing the fiction and evoking the setting. I liked the critique of class divisions made in the novel, especially in Riley’s story. Nadine’s support for feminist causes of her day made her my favourite character.

Young also brings in a story about the development of plastic surgery, originally as a treatment for soldiers disfigured in combat, although this is contrasted with it being offered, almost immediately, as a cosmetic treatment for non-combatants obsessed with their looks.

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You is a fascinating historical novel and a memorable love story. Recommended.

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young
Published by Harper Collins, March 2011
I received a free copy of this through the Amazon Vine programme.


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My Dear I Wanted to Tell You
by Louisa Young

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Written by elkiedee
elkiedee

My name is Luci and I live in North London with Mike and our two little boys - Danny is 4 and Conor is 2. I'm trying very hard to bring up two little bookworms, with some success so far. I work full time and at weekends the little monsters like to hang out in the park, but otherwise I spend every spare minute reading and talking about books online. I read a variety of books but particularly like crime fiction, literary novels and short stories, women's writing, biographies and memoirs, and social history. My many many favourite authors include Barbara Comyns, Anne Tyler, Katherine Mansfield, Toni Cade Bambara, Diana Wynne Jones, Denise Mina, Ian Rankin, John Harvey and George Pelecanos.

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