In Curtis’s debut historical novel, a veteran reconnects with an old girlfriend and shares his story on Christmas Eve, 1931.
Middle-aged handyman Alan “Al” Weldy returns from London to his childhood home of Lassingwood in Oxfordshire. He goes into the local pub, the Four Bells, and discovers that the proprietor is Maddy Cropper, the sister of Eddie Beane, his best friend, who died in the Great War. Although Al and Maddy were once romantically involved, they haven’t seen each other in nearly two decades, and they gradually re-establish their connection as they share the details of their lives. Maddy, a widow, tells Al how the war affected her husband, and Al slowly and reluctantly shares the details of Eddie’s death in the trenches. The narrative makes frequent jumps between 1931 and the war years as the two main characters tell their stories, and they soon find that their previous romance has transformed into a more mature emotional connection. Meanwhile, their remembrances demonstrate the lingering damage that war can cause for soldiers and their loved ones. Curtis does an excellent job of developing his characters’ distinct voices as the narrative moves back and forth between Al’s and Maddy’s points of view. The evolution of their love is also well-executed, as readers get access to both characters’ thoughts: “Even though she had almost forgotten her schoolgirl crush, maybe he had always been in her mind, invisible for years. Tonight she’d found some of the likeable schoolboy still in him. But he was different now, a man who carried burdens, same as hers.” The close narration does become repetitive at times, reminding readers frequently, for instance, of Al’s reluctance to share the details of Eddie’s death. However, the emotional payoff makes it all worthwhile.
An engaging, gritty novel of World War I and its decadeslong effects on England.