Monday, March 16, 2015

TLC Book Review - The Heroes' Welcome

The Heroes' Welcome by Louisa Young

• Paperback: 272 pages
• Publisher:
 Harper Perennial (March 10, 2015)

Golden Lines

He was quite aware that not many people thought he'd add up to much, poor fellow.  But if he learnt anything from being shot to bits and patched up again, it was this: now is a good time to do what you want.  (4)

Certainly, no one was "going back" to anything.  They weren't mourning some pre-war Utopia, the golden years before the Titanic sank and Captain Scott died on they ice and the Empire and Ireland started to bite back.  For Riley and for Nadine, looking back would involve unbearable regret about what might have been.  Unbearable.  So there was nothing to go back to.
And the war was still over. (22)

But - bad husband - I failed to protect her from this bizarre idiocy of her own.  Just as I failed - bad soldier - to protect my men.  Both at home and at the Front, I failed. (33)

Rose read it carefully.  A woman - Lady Ampthill - was writing to her, a woman, offering money, training and support.  She read the final sentence three times: the words leader, important, best, work, and womanhood in the same sentence. (40-41)

Is it my pride and nothing else, to want to stand around with the men, with my notes and my professional judgement, and have other people act on my instructions, when my family needs me here? (45)

And finally she said: Go to sleep, Rose.  It's not your fault.  He's not your husband.  She's not your wife.  He's not your son. (45)

He was quite certain that Riley had things he wasn't saying either.  They were both able to take a bit of comfort from leaving it at that. (53).

Nadine was irritated at her own sorrow.  The previous year, while still in the extremes of the peculiar emotional landscape where the war had dumped her, she had decided that she would never again be upset by anything that wasn't concretely and immediately offensive to her.  Her peace of mind was precious; she would value it.  She would not let it be upended by a late bus or an uninterested mother.  If there was something to be done about a problem, then it must be done.  If there was nothing to be done, then you might as well shut up about it.  That's all. (173)

"My dear!" Julia cried, but Nadine was sobbing, at how these men of theirs had been chained to death, how death had held them in its cloud for years on end, throwing itself at them from every side, and at their companions, drenching them, beating them up, threatening them, battering them, torturing them, talking their friends, taking them - but only so far, then throwing them back, or just taking part of them - their sanity, or their capacity to breathe, their leg, their arm, their face, their speech - laughing at them... (180).

After standing at the French windows for half an hour, starting at him, Nadine had a realization.  Julia's words came back to her: none of us can do this on our own. (202)

Riley went out, thinking of corpses tipped into ditches, lost in mud, bursting from the sides of trenches, never seen again.  How were they, out there, the dead boys?  Would any of their poor bodies  ever come home and be honored? (210)

I suppose it's rather ridiculous how we all sort of thought that after the war was over people would stop dying, and we could - tidy ourselves up again. (220)

Be grateful.  Be grateful, every day, that love is strong, and nothing worse is happening (223)

You won the war, now you got to win the peace (227)

Time passed.  It had no choice.  (233)

"I know a bit of the Odyssey, sir.  I read it because of you.  Not in Greek.  But I read it - like Julia did, because of you.  You know where it says we're worn-out husks, with dry haggard spirits always brooding over our wanderings, our hearts never lifting with any joy, because we've suffered too much.  You remember that bit, sir?"
"Yes," said Peter. "It's what Circe told him."
"Yes, and she was fucking right, sir," Riley said. (254)

What I Liked

Riley and Nadine - this was an honest couple, I think.  All their romance was in the past...they were determined to make hold each other up.  Somehow.  Their love was deep and lasting.  Unconditional.  It felt true to me.

Nadine - she pretty much told Rose how it was...suck it up girl.  Quit feeling sorry for yourself and go on with your life.

Peter and Julia - these two left me speechless...the tragedy...the rightness.  If the author could have worked their relationship out, whether together or separate, I don't think that would have been right at all. I think Peter and Julia are the very point of this story.  Sometimes life gets torn to shreds, and as hard as you might try, there is not a damn thing you can do about it.  There are way too many war-stories that make it seem like gallant heroics...the blood, the guts, those left behind are pushed behind the curtain.  It shouldn't be.  This is war.  This is life.  And, these are the consequences of war on human life. Period.

Julia - I haven't read other reviews, but I'm guessing she will be the character that most others dislike. Not me.  I loved her.  From beginning to end.  When I felt she should leave Peter, when I felt she'd lost her mind, when I questioned her maternal abilities, when she gave me hope, and in the end.  I loved this character.

Peter is the tragedy of this story to me.  I didn't get mad at him.  I didn't get frustrated with him.  His pain was real and he dealt with it in the best unconscious way that he could.  He didn't plan anything; he didn't sit around thinking about it.  His grief and shock were his disease.  Plain and simple.
And there is no nicely wrapped up ending.

The cover photo...and the story behind it:

There's a magazine called Tatler, which has been published in London since 1901. It's a kind of society mag; pictures of parties and big houses and the English aristocracy. In the old days, each edition used to include a full-page soft-focus black-and-white photographic portrait of a nice young posh girl wearing her grandmother's pearls and a misty look, accompanied by the announcement of her engagement to a nice young posh man. It was a way for the upper classes to keep up with each other’s movements.
In November 1919, this engagement-portrait page showed something else. November 11 was the first anniversary of the Armistice that ended the First World War. Europe - and the US - was full of widows, and of girls whose fiancés were dead. So, as a mark of tenderness, and an acknowledgment of the ferocious loss so many people were living with the magazine put in that slot this photograph, taken by a photographer called Hugh Cecil. Its title is Grief. If you look carefully, you can see that this grieving woman is wearing an engagement ring on the fourth finger of her right hand: where, traditionally, widows would wear their wedding rings.

What I Didn't Like

Rose - I feel guilty about this...I really do.  But, I didn't like her.  Without giving anything away really, she gave up too easily.  She felt whiny to me and pined away for a life that wasn't hers.  It almost felt like to me that she was pretending to want to be more...when really all she'd rather do is be married to someone else's husband and raise someone else's children.  I'm sure I'm not being fair to her, but I just can't shake it.

The Author

Louisa Young



Other Stops on the Tour

Tuesday, March 10th: Tina Says …
Wednesday, March 11th: Giraffe Days
Thursday, March 12th: Open Book Society
Monday, March 16th: Peppermint PhD
Tuesday, March 17th: Read Her Like an Open Book
Wednesday, March 18th: A Book Geek
Thursday, March 19th: Helen’s Book Blog
Monday, March 23rd: Staircase Wit
Tuesday, March 24th: Ageless Pages Reviews
Wednesday, March 25th: Mom in Love With Fiction
Monday, March 30th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

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