A wartime love story in the tradition of Atonement—and perhaps The Winds of War, and perhaps Gone with the Wind....
The opening pages of screenwriter (Gladiator, Shadowlands) and novelist (I Could Love You, 2011, etc.) Nicholson’s modestly pitched saga frame the problem beautifully: A granddaughter does not know her grandmother, just as her mother does not know her own grandmother—and the members of the Greatest Generation, whose story this is, scarcely know themselves. In the early years of World War II, Kitty Teale, who simply adores driving, rushes off to volunteer for service as an ambulance driver. She is class conscious, but less so than her hoity-toity pal Louisa, who grumbles assonantly, “I don’t mind being bossed about by lesbians in trilbies...so long as they’re my own class.” Class enters into things when those wary winds buffet Kitty into the arms of Royal Marine commando Ed—though, to complicate matters, fellow warrior Larry, no slouch himself, emerges as a good candidate for a spirited snogging. What’s a girl to do? Well, when Ed returns from the front a much decorated hero, the decision seems fixed—save that, in postwar India (one wants to pronounce it In-juh, of course), and in a milieu where Ed is hell-bent on drinking his memories of battle away, Larry’s still ripe to enact his realization that “time is so short, death comes so soon....We must love each other.” Or, to echo Auden, die—and there’s some of that, too. The best moments of this well-written if predictable story come when Ed and Larry are interacting: Their relationship is fraught, intimate, wary (“Time to beat a retreat,” says Ed, meaningfully. “Back to the boats and sail away.”) and affecting.
The rest of the story is well-told, though we’ve seen most of it before: Just add gin to your favorite wartime romance and stir.