Review: 'We That Are Left' by Juliet Greenwood (2014)
August 4th, 1914: ‘It was the day of champagne and raspberries, the day the world changed.’
Elin lives a luxurious but lonely life at Hiram Hall. Her husband Hugo loves her but he has never recovered from the Boer War. Now another war threatens to destroy everything she knows.
With Hugo at the front, and her cousin Alice and friend Mouse working for the war effort, Elin has to learn to run the estate in Cornwall, growing much needed food, sharing her mother’s recipes and making new friends – and enemies.
But when Mouse is in danger, Elin must face up to the horrors in France herself. And when the Great War is finally over, Elin’s battles prove to have only just begun.
At the start of this year I reviewed the lovely ‘Mr. Perfect’ by Joanna Davies (click here to read my review), which was a book published by Welsh publisher Honno. Honno is an independent co-operative press run by women and committed to bringing the best in Welsh women’s writing. I’m part Welsh myself and a big fan of women’s fiction, so when I was asked by Honno to read and review Juliet Greenwood’s novel ‘We That Are Left’, which was released in February 2014, I immediately said yes. I wasn’t familiar with Juliet Greenwood’s work, but her debut novel ‘Eden’s Garden’ was a finalist for The People’s Book Prize 2013-2014. I looked forward to picking up this book and kept my fingers crossed for another fabulous Honno read!
It’s 1914 and Elin is married to Hugo, with whom she lives a comfortable but lonesome life at Hiram Hall. Hugo fought in the Boer War, something he doesn’t talk about but has influenced his life for the long run. Elin has a feeling her marriage isn’t going anywhere, but she doesn’t dare to do anything about it. Then World War I suddenly takes over everyone’s lives and Hugo leaves Elin behind to run the estate. While Elin’s cousin Alice and good friend Margaret work for the war effort, Elin is discovering a new side to herself and she realises there is so much more to life than being the obedient wife. But the war is unpredictable, and Elin finds herself thrown in different directions with no idea what her life will look like as soon as things will calm down again...
‘We That Are Left’ is Juliet Greenwood’s third novel and I can’t believe it took me this long to discover her work! I was completely enthralled by this book from start to finish and it’s one of the best wartime books I’ve read over the past couple of years. The main protagonist, Elin, is a fascinating heroine whose story I really enjoyed. Elin is struggling to find her own identity as a woman; before the war she is trying her best to be a good and obedient wife, but the outbreak of World War I changes everything and she discovers there’s much more and she can’t go back to her old life. Next to Elin, there’s a wonderful cast of well-drawn characters, who each bring their own unique something to the story. I particularly loved Lady Margaret Northolme, known as Mouse to her friends, who becomes Elin’s close friend, and Elin’s cousin Alice.
The story is mainly set in Cornwall, Anglesey and France, and the descriptions blew me away. Juliet Greenwood’s writing is really descriptive and almost enchanting; it made it so easy to imagine everything in my head, it was almost like a film. It is obvious the author did a lot of research and this definitely shows and makes the story even stronger. I already look forward to reading some of her other work in the future, with the hope of it being just as good as this particular book. ‘We That Are Left’ is an engrossing and moving novel with at its core a woman’s search for her own identity in the time of World War I; an absolute pleasure to read.