I scribbled down the name of Louisa Young’s book after a friend I met in the supermarket car park suggested it as one of my 50:50. I’m so glad I bumped into that fellow book-worm (thanks, Sheila!) as this WW1 novel turned out to be a well written, haunting read.
Riley Purefoy is not a privileged lad. But he’s bright, artistic and wants to better himself. When the Waveneys, a bohemian London family, adopt Riley as a kind of pet, it is not long before he is taken in by artist Sir Alfred. Riley has already fallen for Nadine Waveney, but her mother disapproves of the match and determines to keep the young soul mates apart. As WW1 breaks out, Riley signs up, tries to believe he might be able to forget Nadine. Separated by the war, communication is stilted and uncertain to begin with, but over time the lovers’ letters become more meaningful. Whilst on leave from their respective duties (Nadine is by this time a nurse), the couple spends time together. It seems as if their love has a future and they long for peace. However, when Riley is sent back to England to recover from serious facial injuries, devotion is tested to the limit.
Young’s prose is neither overly descriptive nor effusive, yet she nevertheless succeeds in creating believable characters whose fates really drew me in. There are a number of interesting sub-plots, including a wife’s obsession with cosmetic procedures and Riley’s necessary surgery. Sensitive portrayals of shell-shock and the after-effects of war, on both serving personnel and those who waited at home, add depth to this touching novel. One critic has called ‘My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You’ “Birdsong for the new millenium“, drawing a comparison with Sebastian Faulks’ epic novel. Actually, I can’t agree with that as I think Faulks is a far more accomplished writer – having said that, if you do enjoy the L.Young book, I am almost certain you would be equally (if not more) entralled with ‘Birdsong’.