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An epic, gripping, heart-shattering love story about two soldiers in the First World War
It's 1914, and talk of war feels far away to Henry Gaunt, Sidney Ellwood and the rest of their classmates, safely ensconced in their idyllic boarding school in the English countryside. At seventeen, they're too young to enlist, and anyway, Gaunt is fighting his own private battle - an all-consuming infatuation with his best friend, the dreamy, poetic Ellwood - not having a clue that Ellwood is in love with him, always has been. When Gaunt's German mother and twin sister ask him to enlist as an officer in the British army to protect the family from anti-German attacks, Gaunt signs up immediately, relieved to escape his overwhelming feelings for Ellwood.
The front is horrific, of course, and though Gaunt tries to dissuade Ellwood from joining him on the battlefield, Ellwood soon rushes to join him, spurred on by his love of Greek heroes and romantic poetry. Before long, their classmates have followed suit. Once in the trenches, Ellwood and Gaunt find fleeting moments of solace in one another, but their friends are all dying, right in front of them, and at any moment they could be next
An epic tale of both the devastating tragedies of war and the forbidden romance that blooms in its grip, In Memoriam is a breathtaking debut.
Author: Alice Winn
Hardback Published 6 June 2023 368 pages
Recommended and Reviewed by Graeme and Hendri
"This superb historical novel centres on two young men in love who are unable to express it, set against the backdrop of World War I. The book takes us back to 1914 England where Sidney Ellwood and Henry Gaunt are safely sheltered from the violence of the war at their boarding school - too young to enlist. While sexual relations are far from foreign between the schoolmates, Gaunt cannot express his romantic feelings toward the poetic and flamboyant, Ellwood. And he certainly has no clue that Ellwood is also longing for him in return. When pressured by his German-born family to enlist for the war and show his solidarity to the British nation, Gaunt does so. However, when Ellwood rushes to join Gaunt on the war front, he finds his beloved greatly changed already. Death haunts them every day and ultimately they are separated. Gaunt is presumed dead. The horror of the war is unflinchingly portrayed. Even those who are wounded with shocking physical injuries - a lost eye or limb - also suffer terrible psychological damage. They scream their terror in their sleep. Yet amidst this horror Ellwood and Gaunt are finally able to overcome their shame and uncertainty and find comfort in being together physically and express what went unspoken for so long. It is a beautifully wrought portrait of love between men at a time when it was a crime and the need to act clandestinely was vital. On the war front this need falls away. The sentences have been beautifully crafted by Alice Winn, not only to depict this slowly unfurling love, but also the pain, trauma, and hope arising from the grim realities of war. The storyline involving Gaunt’s sister adds another fascinating layer to the story. Her role in life is also transformed and she becomes a nurse, and later also the main supporter of her brother and his lover. This novel is an engrossing devastating read, absolutely perfect for fans of Tom Crewe’s The New Life."