Mary Hoffman writes:
The History Girls don't make a habit of reviewing one another's books on this site but we are making an exception today. Louisa Young can't post today for personal reasons, but there has been a spate of positive comments among us about her title My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You, recently read on Radio 4 as a Book at Bedtime, and a Richard and Judy pick for Spring. The audio version read by Dan 'Downton Abbey' Stevens, won the Galaxy Award. So we are going to post a few History Girl reviews here today, to cheer Louisa up and because we think she wrote a really good book!
I started to hear the buzz about Louisa Young's My Dear I Wanted to Tell You and downloaded the audiobook to my iPhone. I walked for hours, completely captured by this compelling love story. Brilliantly read by Dan Stevens (left), the story gripped me from the beginning and wouldn't let go. I was especially in awe of the amount of research Louisa must have put into this. Yet the research never intrudes. It does what it should do, it makes the world utterly real and gave me great confidence in her authority. The plot, too, is compelling and carried me to places I did not think it would go. But what impressed me the most were the brilliant internal monologues, especially those about how the mind shrinks from the agony of protracted battle and shell-shock. I can't remember reading such imaginative and accurate descriptions of a person's interior mental state. Brava, Louisa, for writing a superb historical novel.
Adèle Geras writes:
Most of the time, if I want to read a newly-published hardback, I order it from the library. In the case of Louisa's book, I read a review of the novel, and wrote to her on email (we'd never met, but I'd met her daughter at the Edinburgh Festival) asking for some research advice I needed for a story of my own. She was very kind and helpful and I bought her book immediately. There was a great deal in it that fed into my short novel for 8-12 year olds, believe it or not, but as well as that, I loved My dear... for its unusual and perceptive look at aspects of the First World War that I hadn't seen tackled before. There is great sadness in the story but also inspirational courage and unswerving love which overcomes obstacles in a very satisfying way. The afterword, where we learn that much of the book is based on real events that happened to real people, is a revelation. For my part, the work done by the medical profession and the insight into the beginnings of plastic surgery is what I remember best from the novel and what makes it different from almost everything I've read about this period.
This was a book I wanted to read but as I was in the throes of research for my next book, I had little time for ‘treats’. So I bought the unabridged CD version and listened to it in the car. This did nothing for global warming as I often took ‘scenic routes’ so that I could listen for longer. The story, which is beautifully written and filled with detail of life before and during WW1, is a love story without sugary sweetness and with characters that are unique and believable. When I came to the end, I had to play the last two CDs over again before I could bear to let then go. I must mention Dan Stevens (the gorgeous one in Downton Abbey) whose reading is a delight to listen to. Thank you so much for this book, Louisa. I loved it
Catherine Johnson writes:
I have been looking after my Mother, post heart attack, in North Wales. I always find it hard to work away from home, and resort to reading two for fifty pence thrillers from the local charity shops. But I saw this book in Sainsbury's; it was by the checkout, and I thought a 'History Girls book' and put it in with my mother's shopping. I read it in two nights sat up in bed. I would have read it in one but had to stop as soon as I realised something horrible was about to happen to Riley and Nadine. How old am I? Too old to care this much about fictional characters surely.
What a beautiful, wonderful, transporting novel.
Sue Purkiss writes:
Just after Christmas, I went into my local Waterstones and saw that there was a half-price sale. I picked up My Dear I Wanted To Tell You because it looked interesting, and didn’t click for some time that it was by Louisa, and that Louisa is one of the History Girls. (Yes, I really am that dense!) I began to read it last Friday, and it was so good that, when that evening we had a power cut, I carried on reading by the light of a candle.
The book is set mostly during the First World War. I think this is a difficult period to write about. How can you say anything new? How can you get past the classics written by veterans – All Quiet On The Western Front, Memoirs Of An Infantry Officer, Wilfred Owen’s poetry – let alone the many successful novels which have been written more recently? But Louisa makes familiar territory seem completely fresh – read the book to find out how. However, it’s the characterisation that really draws you in. Riley, the hero, is charismatic, endearing, and utterly human. Nadine is richly painted. Relationships lurch and jolt and soar and stutter, just like real ones do. I can’t wait to meet these characters and others again in the promised sequel.
A review which may contain 'spoilers':
Linda Buckley-Archer writes:
The premise of My Dear I Wanted to Tell You, rooted as it is in solid historical research, is deeply compelling. For most us, thankfully, our experience of war is second-hand. We view the casualties of war through the filter of what the public can reasonably be expected to cope with on the large or small screen or when leafing through the newspapers. Logic tells us that injuries are not restricted to ‘emotionally acceptable’ parts of the body: an arm in a sling, blood seeping through a jacket, a missing limb. Yet it is rare that we are asked to confront serious facial wounds – not the odd character-forming scar – but disastrous injuries, a jaw blown off, flesh reduced to pulp, features that a close relative could not recognise. The face identifies us, communicates emotion, attracts us to others. What would you do if your face was destroyed? Would you want to die? Would you want to tell the person that you loved? And what would you do if you were that man’s lover? Louise has written a moving, page-turning novel, in lyrical prose, that tries to answer these questions, and in so doing highlights some of the pioneering work in the field of plastic surgery in the aftermath of the First World War.
My Dear I Wanted to Tell You is available in hardback, paperback, ebook for Kindle, unabridged CD & unabridged audio download.
You can read a fascinating post about the research Louisa put into the novel HERE, but again, beware of spoilers.