Louis de Bernieres adds to the pantheon of First World War novels with his latest book. Inspired by his own family history de Bernieres explores the devastation and changes the war wrought upon British lives and society following four daughters of the McCosh family. At it’s it is a centre a love story; about love lost, love found and love that needs to be discovered.
This is an entertaining novel about four sisters and how the First World War changes the course of their lives. This is not a novel about the trenches, although the scenes of war de Bernieres describes are remarkably vivid, particularly those of pilot Daniel Pitt. Instead it is about the lives lost and the consequences and possibilities that evaporated with them. The war opens doors and prospects they could never have imagined while also painfully closing and altering their future paths.
The immediate comparison the book drew for me was Downton Abbey and at times the novel does threaten to fall into melodrama but de Bernieres manages to steer away from the sensational, often just in the nick of time. Like Downton Abbey though de Bernieres does just stick to the changes to the family whose story he is telling, sometimes brushing up against the changes, but not exploring them in any deeper way than the effect they have on the McCosh’s lives.
Like Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and Birds Without Wings this is a story full of characters’ lives to get lost in while history sweeps around them. Told with good humour, compassion and tragedy this is a sweeping tale about rebuilding and re-finding happiness when it seems irrevocably lost, swept away by the indiscriminate tide of war.