You might be prompted to say, “The one that describes my injuries to the truest, after all they deserve to know the truth of my condition!” But imagine yourself to be a soldier, fighting for your country who has not seen his family in months, and would not be able to do so for many more months to come. Would your answer still be the same?
How you think is not same as how a soldier thinks. And such ‘objective answer type’ postcards are just one aspect of being a WWI soldier. What Louisa Young does in her novel, My Dear I Wanted to Tell You, is that she takes you through many such horrifying, yet true contours of a war.
There have been numerous stories written over wars, going on simultaneously both on and off the border. This novel, however, is different as it tries to stick to the tragic realities.
Louisa’s novel is based on a field postcard she once found, which was rather ambiguous and picked its title from its opening lines –
She, also for the sake of being historically precise, took account of Major Gillies’ books on early stages of face reconstruction surgeries that were performed on the mutilated combatants of war. And amidst this, are love stories coming to a screeching halt. The result is a delightful novel, which leaves you in tears and smiles altogether.
The plot of the novel revolves around WWI starting from 1907 to 1918. During this timeline, she introduces us to one of the protagonists, Riley, boy of a fireman, who meets Nadine, the privileged daughter of a conductor and her future romantic partner, in a park during their childhood. The highlight of their story is the class distinction between them, which dominates the narration in the first half.
Riley, living on the generosity of Sir Alfred, learns the order and the value of a financial status. In a fit of fury, boyish pride and a confused hunch of gaining a direction, he joins the army, leaving behind Nadine who still has her wings pinned down by the pressure of her family’s expectations. She soon plays her part and joins VAD as a nurse in her desire to contribute to the war as a woman. Simultaneously, stories of other women participating in the war are narrated to highlight the eternal wait for their men fighting on the front.
Riley meets Peter Locke, and becomes his admirer as a subjugate officer. Peter has status and repute, but as the war continues he finds himself impure and unworthy of his wife’s (Julia) affections. Julia, who is a beautiful and devoted wife, but is unsure and insecure about her role in the society’s new arrangement as Peter leaves her to do his bit in the army. In the midst of new priorities, she finds herself useless fulfilling the stereotypical role of a woman.
The story is centered around how the four leads overcome the obstacles and reach self-discovery. The novel subtly puts into perspective the unspoken realities of the past which need to be pondered upon.
This quote best shows Louisa Young’s flair of narrating an already charming plot. I couldn’t have fallen more in love with this book. The author has done an incredible job in bringing forth issues such as the plight of homosexuals, the facade of status, the harsh truth of war, the inner struggles of marriage and pre-marital sex. Throughout the book, she remains unbiased and leaves it on to the readers to decide for themselves if the characters deserve their sympathies. The book makes a terrific argument on the subjects without picking sides.
The part that I personally found to be the best was the experimental and exploratory nature of all the ideas shown to which the young are keen to experience. The story has a vintage touch and one cannot overcome its charm throughout the reading journey. Usage of early medical scenario is only to deepen the plot, and the author tries neither to overplay, nor dampen the horrific truth.
All in all, a compelling read which delights, refreshes and enlightens. It has a smooth flowing analogy for love and war alike with a sharp diction bringing out the best possible imagery.
ANOL’s Guest Author: NIYANTA
As unique as her name, Niyanta is a book junkie, who sniffs and devours classics. Currently, she is studying human nature, music, and English literature, but plans to take you soon on her musical journey as a nerdy-hot musician. Till then, follow her fancies @niyantas on Instagram.