In 1914, war feels far away to Henry Gaunt and Sidney Ellwood. They’re too young to enlist, and anyway, Gaunt is fighting his own private battle – an all-consuming infatuation with the dreamy, poetic Ellwood – not having a clue that his best friend is in love with him, always has been.
When Gaunt’s mother asks him to enlist in the British army to protect the family from anti-German attacks, he signs up immediately, relieved to escape his overwhelming feelings. But Ellwood and their classmates soon follow him into the horrors of trenches. Though Ellwood and Gaunt find fleeting moments of solace in one another, their friends are dying in front of them, and at any moment they could be next.
In Memoriam is a poignant tale set during a part of history I find fascinating – World War One. It’s a book I find hard to sum up because it’s so evocative. At times it’s sweet, romantic and hopeful, and at others, it’s incredibly harrowing.
We follow close friends Henry Gaunt and Sidney Ellwood, both unknowingly in love with the other, as Gaunt’s mother persuades him to sign up to fight in the Army. We see him experience the horrors of war and he is later joined in the trenches by Ellwood, adding a new dimension to their relationship with one another as they grapple with the pressures of war and their unspoken desires.
This type of love story is not a new one, and there were plenty of moments that I found a little too convenient or unbelievable (I think these parts are obvious when you read them). Still, I loved reading about these characters and their experiences. Alice Winn manages to make this topic easy to read about whilst also so very hard – she doesn’t shy away from showing the harsh realities of war for these young men, or the taboo around two men wanting to be together, and I felt such empathy for them.
There are also many serious topics addressed throughout the novel and, although some parts might feel over-dramatic, I loved the drama and intensity of Ellwood and Gaunt’s relationship. Because we follow the characters for a long time, the book has an epic, sweeping feel to it – I was rooting for both characters to admit their true feelings to one another. Tender moments and their budding romance are contrasted with the brutality surrounding them.
In Memoriam is a well-researched, entertaining novel that takes you back to a difficult but fascinating time in history and makes it resonate. It’s emotional and upsetting at times but truly gripping. I’d highly recommend this novel to readers who enjoy historical fiction with a touch of romance.
My rating: 4.5/5