This is the follow up novel to Louisa Young’s ‘My Dear I Wanted To Tell You‘, a devastatingly good novel set during the first world war. This is story of those that lived through the war but sustained life changing physical and emotional injury along the way. I was thrilled when I knew Louisa had written this sequel. I had adored and been deeply moved by My Dear I Wanted to Tell you.
I have to start by commenting on the stylish Jacket Design. It is so understated in its muted colouring and the hidden face of the woman says so much. I would be happy to have this on my shelf for the cover alone. But lets not get distracted by that, for whats inside the cover is just as stylish.
The year is 1919, the Great War has ended and we are reunited with the brutally wounded and facially disfigured Riley Purefoy. He is newly married to his childhood sweetheart Nadine and about to go on honeymoon to Europe. In Kent, Riley’s former CO Major Peter Locke is battling his own demons, haunted by the war. With an obsession with Homer and a predilection to whisky he is navigating family life with a wife (Julie) and a child (Tom) he doesn’t know. Rose is Peter’s cousin and Riley’s former nurse. For her the end of the war offers the first real possibility of independence and a future.
It was good to rejoin the relationship between Nadine and Riley. Its development and growth is tenderly and beautifully written. It is a joy to observe it flourish despite the odds, and is so easy to engage with as a reader.
” ‘Blimey’, he said, How many times can you fall in love with the same person?“
Louisa Young is able to say so much with few words and short sentences. This tiny extract when Nadine and Riley finally kiss is a lovely example of that. I found this such a moving scene.
” He stood there, so utterly embarrassed, so certain that he could never be enough for her. She took his face in both hands, kissed him. Found him, inside it all.”
“It is a simple fact that wounds don’t heal the moment the cause of them stops”
This is a great theme of the book. However, despite Riley’s horrifying injuries he reaches a point when he realises these can’t define him any more. Unlike Peter he could see a future beyond the injury and suffering and pain.
“Riley was thinking: It seems to me that once you’ve been damaged if you don’t become a healer you just get…more damaged. You need to be able to envisage a future. To acknowledge how scared you are, and yet carry on, and help”
” ‘Oh, you’re wounded all right’, Riley said. One-and-three-quarter million wounded, and thats just the wounds you can see. ‘You got your heart broken’ “
This isn’t always a comfortable read. There is so much tragedy and heart ache. At times bearing witness to Peter’s self destruction and the difficulties between himself and Julie is uncomfortable. Watching 3 year old Tom flounder as his father sinks into despair and his mother sinks into herself is tough. I longed for him to be rescued, and saved from the adults who couldn’t even save each other. Despite all that and without giving too much away, Julie’s journey and ‘resurrection’ is cleverly crafted with some interesting twists along the way. This is certainly not a ‘the war is ended and they all lived happily ever after book’.
I devoured The Heroes’ Welcome and lived and breathed it whilst reading it. Like my dear I wanted to tell you it has lingered in my memory long after finishing. I can’t recommend this highly enough but it has to be read as a sequel. So if you haven’t read ‘My Dear I Wanted to Tell You’, beg borrow (maybe not steal) a copy now. You won’t be disappointed.