Love! Betrayal! Remorse! Trench warfare! A high-flown melodrama about three people trapped in a romantic imbroglio while serving in World War I.
This is Lee’s first novel, following multiple nonfiction works about Anne Frank and her family (The Hidden Life of Otto Frank, 2003, etc.). Ted Eden is a golden English lad, loved by his fellow schoolboys and his best friend Alex Dyer, the main character here. On an outing to Westminster Abbey in 1899, he tells the skeptical Alex it would be a fine thing to die for one’s country. In 1914, inevitably, Ted answers the call; Alex joins him in France, but as a war correspondent, and big slabs of the novel consist of his frontline reporting. By this time both men have fallen in love…with the same woman. Ted had met beautiful Clare at a London dinner party, sensed her sad emptiness (she had been raped by her stepfather when she was 13), proposed and been accepted. Before their marriage he introduces her to Alex. Their eyes lock; this is beyond love; it’s a passion for the ages, “which knew no boundaries, no kindness, no logic.” Nonetheless, Clare marries the vulnerable Ted; after all, she loves him, though not with the same “rage.” She too goes to France, as a nurse. On a hospital train she encounters her dying stepfather and refuses him forgiveness. On leave in London, Alex and Clare become lovers, though eaten up by guilt. Then Alex, to ease his conscience, tells Ted about their affair, ignoring Clare’s warning that the revelation will kill him. Oh boy, is she right. Ted goes looking for death and finds it. Alex comes upon the dying man in the trenches as he proclaims, “Bury me with glory or none at all.” And so it comes to pass, thanks to string-pulling and shoveling by Alex. The Unknown Warrior is buried in Westminster Abbey with full military honors, and Alex can find some peace, knowing the Warrior is Ted.
Through all the histrionics, the characters remain one-dimensional.