Elaine's Reviews > My Dear I Wanted to Tell You

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young
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Mar 26, 12

bookshelves: 2012
Read from March 24 to 26, 2012

What, another World War 1 book? Is there something about the fact that no one is left alive to tell -- or criticize the veracity of -- the tale that has led to a recent flourishing (to the already robust genre) of trench literature, usually somehow connected to a story of the folks at home, maybe poets, maybe artsy? Anyway, yes, another one, and another good one. A real energy and lyricism to Young's writing, the "men" come to life, especially her hero, Riley, caught between two worlds, but the little sketched portraits of the troops and other minor characters are memorable as well. The central love story is vivid, felt, sexy and real too, and the prose moves.

Why not a 5? Well, she has some issues writing women. Julia, the 2nd female lead, is problematic, her learned helplessness as the beauteous object of desire seems more schematic idea than real -- so too Rose's asexuality (is she really THAT plain? or a repressed lesbian? the diametric pairing with Julia seems false to both women). And there are two witchy witchy mothers that would seem monstrously misogynist if written by a man -- Young's gentle touch fails her there.

Still though, any novel that can still make you feel the pain and horror of hte trenches (or rather, imagine you can), and the visceral exhaustion and suffering of the nurses who also served (one passage where Young describes nursing conditions of "8 days on the trot underwear", fleas, and cold water washing really hit home), while also being genuinely entertaining, is worth reading.

The passionate recounting of early plastic surgery -- the vanities AND the essential reconstructive work -- are also fascinating -- and make 1917 seem not so very far away.
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