“I think the war is everywhere: in the rain, in the rivers, in the grey air that we breathe. It is a current that runs through all of us. You can’t escape the current; either you swim with it, or you go under…”
Some weeks ago I posted about Chiswick Book Festival where I went along to hear Juliet West talk about her debut novel Before The Fall. I didn’t buy the book at the time although kept it on my radar. Just last week I spotted it on the shelf in my local library and quickly snapped it up. With the 100 year anniversary of the First World War this year and remembrance day fast approaching now seemed the perfect time to read and review it.
Although the story is fictitious, it is inspired by real events that took place in London during the First World War. It is primarily the story of Hannah Loxwood, the wife of one of the many men who volunteered to go and fight for their country. Mostly Hannah does not know if her husband is alive or dead, she rarely hears from him and has been left to raise their two children on her own. She has had to move in with her parents and truculent sister and brother-in-law, barely has enough money or food to live on and is aware that London is gradually falling down around her as bombs shatter her world. She meets Daniel and her life takes a turn she never imagined.
From the beginning I had sympathy for Hannah, and other women like her. It was an interesting perspective to take. Looking at war through the eyes of a woman who did not feel immensely proud of what her husband was doing, but felt let down by his leaving her and the implications that had on the life of her and their children. The reality for many women left behind was a life of hardship and uncertainty. This new life led Hannah to make choices, the consequences of which were hate and betrayal from other women, and estrangement from her own family.
It is Hannah’s character which is perhaps the most compelling but all the characters were well-developed and deserve a reaction. The writing is vivid and haunting in its descriptions of life in the East End. The stench of the river and the heavy fog seeps through the pages.
“The high tide heaves, rising with the Thames, grey, oily water sucking and slapping against the muddy banks. This water can swallow you up in an eye-blink, whether you want to be swallowed or not”
This book has a tremendous ending with some very clever twists which had me completely enthralled until the last page. I would love for there to be a sequel with one of the remaining characters, but more than that I will not say as I would hate to give anything away.
I can’t review this book without mentioning the book cover. It is one of the most stylish I have seen for a long time and I feel fairly sure that even had I not heard Juliet West speak so passionately about her book I would have been drawn to it by the cover alone.
So, if you would like a different perspective on the the First World War, if you are interested in the role of women during the war or if you would simply like to read a beautifully written story then this is probably the book for you.
image via Changing-pages