In Memoriam by Alice Winn
In 1914, war feels far away to Henry Gaunt and Sidney Ellwood. They’re too young to enlist, and anyway, Gaunt is fighting his own private battle – an all-consuming infatuation with the dreamy, poetic Ellwood – not having a clue that his best friend is in love with him, always has been. When Gaunt’s mother asks him to enlist in the British army to protect the family from anti-German attacks, he signs up immediately, relieved to escape his overwhelming feelings. But Ellwood and their classmates soon follow him into the horrors of trenches. Though Ellwood and Gaunt find fleeting moments of solace in one another, their friends are dying in front of them, and at any moment they could be next. An epic tale of the devastating tragedies of war and the forbidden romance that blooms in its grip, In Memoriam is a breathtaking debut.
One of the best debut novels I have read in a long time is In Memoriam (Viking) by Alice Winn. I was reading this late at night after a long day at work and evenings studying I found the hours would just go so quickly. There have been many novels on WWI but this is just stunning in the way Alice Winn writes.
The summer of 1914 and Henry Gaunt and Sidney Ellwood are a word away from war. But it does not escape them as they talk about the war and play act. What I enjoyed was the snapshots of the newspaper the school would publish called The Preshutian in this there would be columns and also debates. The war would also be debated. The two best friends though different, Ellwood was poetic whereas Gaunt was half German and half British. There was a secret that the boys could not openly discuss and that was they were in love, but dare not admit to each other. Remember this is 1914.
It would not be long before the names of the dead would appear in The Preshutian, those that had fallen and been at the school. War was getting close, in fact too close and now Henry Gaunt was under pressure to sign up and fight for his country. It is not long after the Ellwood arrives at the hell that was the trenches. This is were Alice Winn takes the story to another level, the horrors that the young men faced, the slaughter of the innocent as they went over the top or be shot for cowardice. The soldiers that suffered horrific injuries and the dead and dying left on the battlefield, let alone life in the appalling conditions they faced daily in the trenches.
This is a novel that is powerful and openly raw and emotional. You just cannot fail to wonder was fait was to follow for our two protagonists as the war intensified. But the two men who clearly were in love would soon admit there love for each other.
As for the ending of In Memoriam, that you will have to discover for yourself, but this is one novel that will remain with me for a very long time. I will say that the research that Alice Winn did for her debut novel is detailed at the back of the novel and is extensive. If you enjoy reading historical novels and you have been thinking of reading In Memoriam, then I am happy to recommend. It is harrowing in places, but war is harrowing, and World War One was beyond hell. I am really interested to see what Alice Winn now comes up with for her next novel.
In Memoriam by Alice Winn was Published on 9th March and is now available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshop. UK Bookshop.org