Holly Weiss's Reviews > My Dear I Wanted to Tell You

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young
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's review
Apr 27, 2011

bookshelves: historical-fictionistas, to-review, 2011-release
Read from April 27 to 30, 2011

The doctor fixed my face, but what about my soul?

How do ordinary people with normal faults and strengths cope when assaulted by the strains of war? My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You is an emotionally charged book about people affected by World War I.

The novel reveals the horrors of war and the impact on two sets of lovers separated in the conflict. Riley and Nadine, a young couple in love, have an enduring bond even though they are separated by class. Riley enters war to prove he is a man and becomes the most complex, enduring character. Peter, Riley’s commanding officer, and his wife, Julia, do a jagged dance between love, lust and estrangement. Because Julia’s currency is her beauty and she is desperate for her husband’s attention, she spends most of the novel preoccupied with her appearance. Rose, Peter’s cousin, is a redemptive force, wanting the best for Peter and Julia. She shows tender compassion to Riley and the other soldiers she nurses. Her relationship with Nadine is particularly touching.

Author Louisa Young grew up in London in the house in which Peter Pan was written. She authored the New York Times bestselling Lionboy trilogy for children. My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You marks her debut into adult novels. The book’s title is from a standardized field letter that wounded soldiers sent home to allay the fears of loved ones after receiving a telegram informing them of a battle injury.

The most interesting aspect of My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You is the exploration into the beginnings of plastic surgery. At home, Julia seeks “featural surgery” to tuck a lagging chin. In the military hospitals, doctors reconstruct the faces of soldiers disfigured by gunshots. Cartilage and bone drawn from ribs are used to rebuild jaws and noses that are blown away. The juxtaposition of corrective plastic surgery and the wounded spirits of the battle-scarred soldiers establish irony. The early twentieth century doctors that experimented with facial reconstruction are to be commended, but how many soldiers returned home with their spirits permanently damaged by what today is known as PTSD?

Riley says it well. “If your legs are shot to pieces no one expects you to keep going, but if your nerve, the machinery of your self-control, is shot to pieces, they do. It’s not your will, your desire, or willingness to fight on – it’s a separate part of you, but it’s one they don’t understand yet…”

The author’s writing, although full of detail, is hard to follow. Ever-present inner thoughts in italics are distracting and interrupt the prose. The constantly changing points of view combined with pronouns used instead of the character’s name are confusing. Was the author’s intention to reflect the ravages of war by writing a book that seems scattered?

In any event, the book is a realistic portrayal of the horrors of war and lives ravaged by its impact. Everyday life ceases to exist. To endure the upheaval the characters adopt bizarre coping mechanisms.

Harper Collins provided the advance review copy. The opinions expressed are unbiased and wholly those of the reviewer.

Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont

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