In Memoriam by Alice Winn

What I particularly love about this book is the ties that hold this group of public school boys from Preshute together through their schooling and into war ending up as officers. It is a tender love story set in the most brutal of places, war, in a time when men loving men was illegal.

Winn has researched and used the information well within the story, making it very believable. Henry Gaunt is as his name might suggest, tall and slightly awkward with a Bavarian mother who ‘encourages’ him into war because of their background. Sidney Ellwood quotes poetry, particularly Tennyson, in response to a question or just as part of the conversation. He is charming and much more at ease around others. Neither of them, however, is able to say how they feel about each other – it will take a war, many horrific events and moving to Brazil before they can do that properly.

There are adventures such as escaping from a camp, Ellwood believing that Gaunt is dead, meeting up with school friends such as Roseveare and Gideon Devi during the war but time and time again the book comes back to the In Memoriams written for the school newspaper about those who were killed. At one point the book even states that there is no one for Ellwood to write to any more because his friends are all dead. These lists of those from the school who died or are wounded bring up the horror of the never-ending loss of young lives. List after list all from one school. One generation.

Poetry runs throughout the book. The poem of the same name by Tennyson is focused on loss as is the book, balanced by what is gained between Ellwood and Gaunt. Its role in war is interesting, being partly responsible for this idealistic view of the romantic poet. War managed to wipe out poetry from Ellwood as part of his PTSD (not called that in those days – shell shock would be the name used) until the very end.

This is really a remarkable debut. I did get a little bored in the middle just before Gaunt and friends escaped from the prison of war camp, it was repetitive here, but the story reverted to the pressing narrative it started off as once they escaped.

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