It’s been far too long since I last read a book from Liz Trenow, and I was delighted to be asked to join the blog tour for her latest, In Love and War – published by Pan tomorrow, 25th January, in paperback and for kindle. My thanks to the publishers for sending a paperback copy (which my mum took rather a fancy to, and walked off with…!), and for the e-copy (via netgalley) that I read. I declared Liz Trenow one of my new favourite writers when I read The Forgotten Seamstress back in 2014 (you’ll find my review here) – and then inexplicably failed to keep track of her books. What a mistake that was – I’m so glad to have rediscovered her, because I loved this book with the same passion that I felt that very first time.
Three women, once enemies. Their secrets will unite them.
The First World War is over. The war-torn area of Flanders near Ypres is no longer home to troops, but groups of tourists. Controversial battlefield tourism now brings hundreds of people to the area, all desperate to witness first-hand where their loved ones fell.
At the Hotel de la Paix in the small village of Hoppestadt, three women arrive, searching for traces of the men they have loved and lost.
Ruby is just twenty-one, a shy Englishwoman looking for the grave of her husband. Alice is only a little older but brimming with confidence; she has travelled all the way from America, convinced her brother is in fact still alive. Then there’s Martha, and her son Otto, who are not all they seem to be…
The three women in Liz Trenow’s In Love and War may have very different backgrounds, but they are united in their search for reconciliation: to resolve themselves to what the war took from them, but also to what life might still promise for the future…
This was a simply beautiful “quiet” read, focusing on three fascinating women who visit the graveyards of Flanders shortly after the end of the First World War, searching for their missing loved ones. As well as searching for her husband’s grave, Ruby is looking for forgiveness for a deed she bitterly regrets. Alice’s brother joined up under the Canadian flag and probably under a false name, so her search is never going to be easy – but meeting up with a man from her past life adds an interesting twist. And then there is Martha, searching for her older son, accompanied by her younger son Otto… but without the support, and not in the same graveyards.
The story itself is enthralling, as these three very different women strive for the outcomes they hope for. They are perfectly drawn, each of them affected and changed by their experience, strengths and weaknesses exposed in unexpected ways. The backdrop is vividly described – the lush farmlands giving way to devastation and waste as they near Hoppestadt, the trenches still visible and bringing a horrifying reality to the theatre of war, bodies still being recovered nearby, the vast graveyards shocking with their evidence of wasted lives, the visual reminders of the way deserters were dealt with. The insight into the lives of those whose towns and homes were impacted is also superbly handled – with the feelings about the Germany that caused the devastation barely concealed beneath their brave attempts to rebuild and start again.
The emotional impact of this book is enormous – I cried so many times, and ached at the injustice and unfairness of it all. But it’s also immensely uplifting, with its concentration on the goodness and kindness of individuals – and the moving message that people are perhaps better remembered for their actions than by visiting their memorials. This lovely book will remain in my memory for a very long time to come…
About the author
Liz Trenow is the author of four previous historical novels: The Last Telegram, The Forgotten Seamstress, The Poppy Factory and The Silk Weaver. Her family have been silk weavers for nearly three hundred years, and she grew up in the house next to the mill in Suffolk, England, which still operates today, weaving for top-end fashion houses and royal commissions.
Liz is a former journalist who spent fifteen years on regional and national newspapers, and on BBC radio and television news, before turning her hand to fiction. She lives in East Anglia, UK, with her artist husband, and they have two grown-up daughters.