Land of my dreams?

The third novel in Cynthia Harrod-Eagles' The war at home series reaches 1916. Land of my dreams sees the Hunter family about to be engulfed by the Battle of the Somme.

Diana, whose fiance has recently died, finds a new partner in an unexpected place. Sadie delights in some of the freedoms that the war has brought, while the shadow of an old love haunts Beattie. It's Laura however, who will have the biggest adventure...

I've enjoyed all of the War at home series, but oddly this was the volume that most emphasised to me what a different world it was. It's hard to believe reading this thoroughly researched novel that the events happened just over a century ago.

A mother with her wounded son at the
Duchess of  Westminster's (No. 1 Red Cross) Hospital,
at Le Touquet,  18th June, 1917.
Imperial War Museum.
It was an odd time, in some ways more innocent than today, in others remarkably brutal and cruel. Young men die in the most callous ways in the trenches, and suffer unspeakable pain. Communication is poor, and often difficult. There is a great lack of knowledge both about sex and sexuality leading to pain and confusion.

Technology is advancing rapidly, and yet the minds of the men operating the machinery often seems to lag some way behind the technology itself. These are pre-Health and Safety days as the girls of the munitions factories will soon discover to their cost. Most of all society seems to be at war with itself, while wounded soldiers roam the streets having to beg for a living, and other young men wear masks to conceal their terrible wounds, high society still flourishes, with the party season at full height during the battle for the Somme.

This seemed to me a colder book than the previous two volumes. One likeable character is killed off early on with barely a mention; but, I guess that this is what it really was like then. By 1916, death was becoming so all encompassing, so inevitable that there was little time to grieve. Sometimes this is exacerbated as with Beattie Hunter's inability to cope with horrendous news. The coldness is not necessarily a criticism. Land of my dreams is not as comfortable a read as the earlier volumes, but this is because Cynthia Harrod-Eagles is so good at encapsulating the spirit of the times she is writing about.

I'm not entirely convinced by some of the characters in the book, especially by the changes that have happened to those who have appeared throughout the series, but I admire Harrod-Eagles' skill in evoking a particular period, and this shines through in this third volume. 1916 marked a change in attitudes towards the war, and confusion over what was the Land of my dreams. Could life ever be the same again?

Bookhound is now off on holiday, and will be away for a couple of weeks. A week under canvas (probably in the pouring rain) should at least give me plenty of reading time; and with a trip to Hay-on-Wye en route, you just know that there are going to be lots more reviews...


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