All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott

on November 19, 2019

The Poppy Wife
Caroline Scott
Simon & Schuster AUS
2019, 492p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Until she knows her husband’s fate, she cannot decide her own…

An epic debut novel of forbidden love, loss, and the shattered hearts left behind in the wake of World War I.

1921. Families are desperately trying to piece together the fragments of their broken lives. While many survivors of the Great War have been reunited with their loved ones, Edie’s husband Francis has not come home. He is considered ‘missing in action’, but when Edie receives a mysterious photograph taken by Francis in the post, hope flares. And so she beings to search.

Harry, Francis’s brother, fought alongside him. He too longs for Francis to be alive, so they can forgive each other for the last things they ever said. Both brothers shared a love of photography and it is that which brings Harry back to the Western Front. Hired by grieving families to photograph gravesites, as he travels through battle-scarred France gathering news for British wives and mothers, Harry also searches for evidence of his brother.

And as Harry and Edie’s paths converge, they get closer to a startling truth.

An incredibly moving account of an often-forgotten moment in history, The Poppy Wife tells the story of the thousands of soldiers who were lost amid the chaos and ruins, and the even greater number of men and women desperate to find them again.

It’s several years after the end of the First World War and almost four since her husband was reported missing, believed dead when Edie receives a photograph of Francis in the mail. It’s posted from somewhere in France, there’s no accompanying letter, there’s no indication of who has sent it. Showing it to Francis’ brother Harry, she begs Harry to find Francis for her, to take a photo of his grave. To prove that he’s never coming home.

Harry is a photographer who works for a newspaper who accepts requests from families to take photos of the graves of their loved ones. In most cases, they have the details of when and how they died, they just want to see their loved one’s final resting place, as they are generally unable or unwilling to travel there themselves. Armed with a slew of requests, Harry is in France to provide those grave photos but he’s also trying to find his brother Francis. Harry knows Francis is dead, that the wounds he took were not the sort one would recover from. But Edie, his wife and even Harry himself needs the closure of knowing where Francis lies. There’s only Harry left now, but he knows that his mother would want it as well, to know.

Both Harry and Edie are in France, looking for Francis. For Edie, she’s not sure whether she’s looking for a grave or the man himself. Part of her feels that only Francis himself could’ve sent that photo to her. Who else would? And why not include a note? There’s no denying that the last time she saw Francis, in 1917, he wasn’t coping very well and had become a shadow of the man he once was. And there are many stories of men so traumatised or injured that they’ve forgotten their names, their wives, their everything.

I think what Harry was doing, although surely traumatising, was a really kind thing. I have to admit, it’s not something I’ve ever put much thought into, not having lived through such a war. But so many young men were killed overseas and buried, often in mass unmarked graves. For some families, travelling to see their final resting place was just not an option – poor health, poor circumstances, trauma themselves…. Harry’s job provides them with closure and a memento of their precious person, be it a husband, son, brother, etc. But I don’t know how Harry wasn’t more of a mess than he was – he had a few nightmares but he was more put together than I would’ve thought, returning to places he’d been as a soldier.

Although this book was interesting in terms of what Harry was doing and how hard it was, to track down those people who were missing, feared dead I have to say, I found it incredibly wearying. It is quite depressing and just kind of keeps piling more things on you as you move through it. There’s a lot of false hope and then hopelessness, a lot of death, which is to be expected, it was the Great War after all. But I did find that I got quite bogged down in it and it was making me feel pretty wrecked and like I just wanted to get it over and done with. Books like this are perhaps very much mood-influenced and maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to read something that contained such horrific scenes. There are battles scenes as well, from Harry’s point of view and the connection between the brothers that signed up together and that you just know ends in tragedy. I found the story of Edie and Harry not at all particularly inspiring and even a bit……uncomfortable, considering she’d been married to his brother. I do wonder if this was sort of common as an expected or understood thing of the time……but it felt a bit Henry VIII for me. Harry meets a lot of people along the way during his search for Francis and his photographing of the graves and occasionally I felt as though these meetings bogged the story down. One connection he makes in particular really does take up quite a bit of the book and at the end, I have to admit I wasn’t really sure why it was such a large portion, or what it contributed. It felt like it honestly could’ve been left out and not have really affected the story at all.

Some of this was interesting, some of it was a bit of a chore and all of it was a struggle. However this has many glowing reviews and I fully admit that it was probably a case of it’s not the book, it’s definitely me.


Book #192 of 2019

2 responses to “Review: The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott

  1. Claire Louisa says:

    I nearly requested this, I’m glad I didn’t, I’m not in the mood for wearying books.

  2. I liked this more than you I think. It was pretty common for war widowed wives to end up with their unmarried brother- in- laws. Partly because the women often needed to rely on them for financial assistance, and the BIL’s were expected to act as a sort of de facto husband and father since at the time women still had few opportunities.

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