Adele Parks will always have a special place in my heart for her work with the Reading Agency, Quick Reads and World Book Night in promoting reading for pleasure. Her Quick Read, Happy Families, is one of my favourites and I know many young women for whom it was their first book and the thing that made them start to read for please. I love how Parks is so unashamedly positive about reading, watch her lovely video for WeLoveThisBook for examples of this. She’s donated a book for World Book Night, judged the Costa award, and is Ambassador for the Six Book Challenge. She’s also big on the twitters.
Her books themselves, however, have never really been my thing. She’s a bestselling author of what I had always considered well-written, if rather mumsy chick lit. Now I love mumsy chick lit, but have always tended to stick to my staples-Erica James, Katie Fforde, Freya North etc etc, although I’ve read a couple of her books, I’d have never described myself as a fan.
This has all changed. Making a sharp turn to the historical fiction world with 2014’s Spare Brides (which I haven’t read), Parks follows the lead of the market with this summer’s War Story Best-Seller to be, If You Go Away. And I LOVED it.
Vivian is the eldest daughter of an impoverished upper class family, enjoying her Season in the spring of 1914. As naive as she is beautiful, Vivian’s world revolves around shopping, dancing, admiring herself, and doing what her mother tells her. When she decides to open her wings ever so lightly, and commits the ultimate indiscretion, her world comes crashing down around her. Forced into a marriage with a suitable, if boring and distant, man, Vivian sees the start of the war as nothing more than an inconvenience.
Vivian’s story is told alongside that of playwright Howard Henderson. who cannot see why so many men are rushing to join up to fight. Experiencing the war first hand as a journalist, Howard’s views change to be out and out against the war, and, upon conscription, he faces imprisonment as a conscientious objector.
As the two young people’s lives come together, Vivian and Howard find themselves falling desperately in love, and both their morals are tested.
Like other war-time romances, such as One Last Dance by Judith Lennox, which I reviewed last year and is similarly addictive reading, this book sneakily manages to tell the history of the war and it’s effects on both those that fought in it and those they were left behind in an accessible, and totally gripping way. There were chapters in this book I could not put down, and was nose to spine for. Other parts dragged slightly, but only slightly, as Parks is so adept at creating characters that you care about, and want to know about. Vivian especially I found a brilliantly constructed character, she develops so much over the five years of the main action of the novel, uncovering the shallowness of the Edwardian upper class living and the delight in freedom of movement and of thought.
The love story itself is well played out and intense, but for me the best part of the book is the first half, the lead up to the war and the release of Vivian from her husband and his family’s grip.
The book is out in hardback and Kindle in June and would make a wonderful beach read. If you enjoyed Anna Hope’s Wake, or My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young you will love this.