Freddie Chevalier, a wealthy farmer’s son, suffers a life-changing disfigurement in the Great War. He’s in love with his best friend’s fiancé and is determined not to miss out on the excitement of the Great War. Soon his life changes from one of idyllic days spent with his friends, Charles, Meredith and Lexi, staying at the Baldwyns’ ancestral home in Shropshire and working on his father’s farm in Jersey, to one of horror, pain and betrayal.
It doesn’t take long for Freddie to discover that the life he enjoyed before the war has vanished and that he is going to have to find a way to live with the consequences of the choices he and Charles have made.
Broken Faces beat 7000 other entrants to be a runner-up in the Good Housekeeping Magazine Novel Writing Competition (2012) they described DM Carr as as ‘one to watch’, They also added, ‘In Deborah Carr’s Downton-esque tale, Broken Faces, a soldier suffers a life-changing injury in the Great War’. The book also received a special commendation in that year’s Harry Bowling Prize.
I’ve been rather looking forward to this one – before signing up for the blog tour with Brook Cottage Books, I’d already heard a fair bit about it. Broken Faces by DM Carr was published for kindle by Green Shutter Books on 15th December 2015, and is available via Amazon in the UK and US. Having now read it, I have to say it really was everything I hoped it would be.
In fact, I think it’s fair to say that I spent most of my weekend quite mesmerised by it. Historical fiction done “straight” – without a modern thread to balance it – isn’t always my kind of read, but the author does such a wonderful job of creating the world of the privileged classes contrasting with the horror of the battlefields of the First World War that I was totally drawn in from the first few pages.
Her research and understanding of the social history shines from the pages – the manners and morals, and the absence of understanding of the reality of war by those insulated by class from its full effects. The home front scenes are – as the Good Housekeeping panel said – relatively familiar to us all from our Downton Abbey viewing, and its many fans would love this book. There are some lovely touches – the cook making meals out of nothing, the major hardship for the privileged being only fewer rooms heated by fires, and the reluctance to allow the butler to neglect his duties to support the war effort. The battlefield and hospital scenes are harrowing – as they should be – and in stark contrast to the soft comfort of home. There’s one particular scene following the battlefield death of a horse that I think might stay with me forever. And the descriptions of processes involved in the surgery carried out on damaged faces and the masks made to disguise them was totally fascinating, and very moving.
The characterisation is really excellent. I really liked Meredith, suitably feisty but very much a woman of her time, working as a nursing assistant dealing with severely injured and disfigured servicemen brought in from the front. I liked her fiancé Charles less – but the scenes he’s involved in at the front did increase my sympathy for him. I couldn’t forgive him some things though – particularly his over-the-top reaction to a misunderstanding about Meredith’s relationship with his closest friend Freddie, which coloured his actions for so much of the book. Freddie is a wonderful character, with a vulnerability that touches to the heart as he deals with the war’s personal impact. And we see Lexi growing to womanhood nursing an unrequited love – and demonstrating a glorious impetuousness in all she says and does. I’m really going to miss these people tremendously. Minor characters shine brightly too – Nanny, Ellie’s mother, Freddie’s father and particularly Charles’ difficult comrade in arms Hamilton-Browne.
DM Carr writes quite beautifully – the dialogue quite natural but perfectly of its time, the descriptions vivid whether soft-edged or stark, the emotional impact of the story beautifully handled – and I was left with the lasting impression of an excellent story really well told. I’d really like to read more. I wonder if there’s any possibility of the author picking up the stories of these wonderful characters again? I do hope so – I’d be pre-ordering now. A really lovely read, and highly recommended.
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