The title of Clare Clark’s latest book is taken from the Laurence Binyon poem: For The Fallen honouring the dead of World I. It’s a novel following the fictional Mellville family through the war, and into the 1920’s.
It’s very similar to Downton Abbey. The Melville’s have two daughters: Jessica and Phyllis, and one son: Theo. They grow up in a rich, titled family on the “Elinghurst” estate with frequent visitor Oskar Grunewald, a child of a family friend and a German man. When war hits Theo enlists, and is killed. The title, and the house will pass to a distant cousin. The family eventually turns to Oskar for help.
Clark is obsessive over details, from the texture of brick at Cambridge, to the bustling scenery in London. Instead of pulling the story down, it paints a more complete picture of the times. Through the characters’ mother Eleanor the reader gets a sense of the grief, and chaos caused by the war.
The major similarity to Downton Abbey is in the daughters being used to explore the era’s social change. Phyllis and Jessica both take different paths. Phyllis finds work as a nurse during the war, and then goes onto to study archaeology. Jessica sort of plays at working a job with a magazine, and ends up realizing all she wants is at home.
The single flaw is the twist at the end. If the readers are paying attention they see it coming all the way through, so the reveal isn’t a surprise. Clark doesn’t carry through with it. What are the consequences? What do the other characters think of it? How does it change relationships? The book just sort of stops. In one sense it’s annoying. In another sense it cements it as a portrait of the times.
Grade:8/10- worth the read for history buffs, and Downton Abbey fans.