August 4th, 1914: ‘It was the day of champagne and raspberries, the day the world changed.’
Elin lives a luxurious but lonely life at Hiram Hall. Her husband Hugo loves her but he has never recovered from the Boer War. Now another war threatens to destroy everything she knows.
With Hugo at the front, and her cousin Alice and friend Mouse working for the war effort, Elin has to learn to run the estate in Cornwall, growing much needed food, sharing her mother’s recipes and making new friends – and enemies.
But when Mouse is in danger, Elin must face up to the horrors in France herself. And when the Great War is finally over, Elin’s battles prove to have only just begun.
I’ve been wanting to read a book by Juliet Greenwood for some time, based on the recommendations of reading and blogging friends: I’m also keen to support independent co-operative publisher Honno Press, who I first discovered through the novels of Lorraine Jenkin and who consistently publish some excellent reads.
I loved this book from its very first pages – as Elin returns to her vividly described former home in Port Helen – to its thoroughly satisfying conclusion. The narrator, Elin, is a wonderfully drawn and fascinating focus for the story – treated like a child in her loveless marriage to the cold and troubled Hugo, her life is changed both by the onset of the First World War and by the arrival of Mouse (Lady Margaret Northcote), who crashes in her biplane in a nearby field. Her introduction to the Northcotes and the immense changes to her life through the impact of war make for thoroughly fascinating reading. Elin finds personal resources she never knew she had, running the house and its food production with the support of conscientious objector Treeve, and even embarking on a harrowing rescue mission in war-torn France.
As well as the wonderful love story at its heart, this was a well researched and thoroughly engrossing look at the manners and life expectations of women of the time, the effects of the war, and the passing of a way of life, with female frendship and support central to the story. There’s a wealth of domestic detail that brings life on the home front vividly to life – the cultivation of the kitchen garden, the preserving of the produce and the devising of meals with very little in the way of ingredients (with some lovely recipes included). It’s a thoroughly engrossing read – sad, exciting, infuriating, heart-warming – and quite beautifully written, in a simple flowing style that immediately draws you in and keeps you turning the pages. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed the writing of Katherine Webb or Kate Morton, but Juliet Greenwood has a lovely style all of her own – a really lovely read.
We That Are Left was published by Honno Press in February 2014, and is available in paperback and Kindle editions. My copy was my own purchased Kindle edition.
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Juliet lives in a traditional Welsh quarryman’s cottage between Anglesey and the mountains of Snowdonia. She has a large garden that would have been used by original inhabitants to grow vegetables and fruit to supplement their wages. Juliet tries to follow in their footsteps with the aid of a polytunnel and plenty of experimenting with the results. Juliet has been told that her great-grandmother was the cook at a big country house at the beginning of the last century. She has definitely inherited the baking gene – her chocolate-and-orange cake is legendary!
As a child, Juliet always had her nose in a book. She wrote her first novel (an epic inspired by Rosemary Sutcliff and set in Saxon times) at the age of ten. After studying English at Lancaster University and King’s College, London, Juliet worked in a variety of jobs, from running her own craft stall at Covent Garden Market to running puppet and storytelling workshops in North Wales. A severe illness over 15 years ago inspired her to pursue her life-long passion and finally fulfill her ambition to become a published author.
Her first novel, Eden’s Garden was chosen by the Welsh Books Council as Welsh Book of the Month May 2013 and was a finalist for The People’s Book Prize 2013/14.