I'd heard great things about this novel and my copy has been sitting on the shelf for some time, I finally started to read it late last week. I finished the book yesterday and the story, the characters and the setting have been there in my mind all day, almost haunting me.
I've heard people say that a book has 'changed their life', and to be honest I've always wondered how a fictional story could do that, but this story has certainly changed my perceptions and my thoughts about the Great War.
Louisa Young is a remarkable author, her ability to get under the skin of these characters, both male and female is astounding. What starts out as the story of a working-class lad mixing with the gentry soon turns into a story of enduring love cruelly interrupted by the horrors of war. Each and every character is drawn perfectly, and each one has an important part to play within the story, but it is Riley Purefoy who is the finest character of all. An innocent lad who becomes entranced by the bohemian Waveney family and their set of artistic associates. Although Riley appears to be accepted for who he is, he must remember his place, it really wouldn't be done for him to fall in love with a Waveney girl.
Riley finds himself in the trenches in France fighting the 'Hun' - alongside the ordinary men and the officers, but he doesn't really know quite where he fits.
Riley has multiple voices, there are the lines that he says out loud and there are his innermost thoughts. Louisa Young has very cleverly combined these two, which allows the reader to experience Riley's inner battles with himself.
The battle scenes from France are stark and horrific, and straight to the point. Young uses very few words but uses them so well, not one word is wasted. When the action moves to the constructive surgical hospital in Sidcup, again the full horrors of war are laid out, the injuries to soldiers who are little more than children. Visible injuries and also those that are so well hidden in the mind.
I've concentrated most on Riley in this review because his character has totally bewitched me - his vulnerability, his innocence and his resilience shine through - he really does come alive through the pages.
The other characters; Nadine, Rose, Julie and Peter Locke are all excellently written too. Julia Locke's slow and steady breakdown, Nadine and Rose both at the Front, each and every one of them add their own part to this very special story.
There is an incredible amount of research behind this novel and it is knowing that although the characters are fictional, the events surrounding them are based on fact that makes it so moving.
My Dear I Wanted To Tell You has been selected as a Richard and Judy Book Club Spring 2012 read. Louisa Young has written four adult fiction novels and is also the co-author (with her daughter) of the children's Lionboy series (written under the name of Zizou Corder). She is also the author of two non-fiction titles, one of them is her Grandmother's biography - Kathleen Scott, the widow of Captain Scott.