Charlotte’s thoughts were never far from Edward. The brother and friend they loved, the man who had been returned to them, but whose soul, she feared, still walked among the dead, the millions of dead, who haunted the battlefields and charnel houses of Flanders and France.
(from After the War Is Over)
Quick summary: After the War Is Over is the sequel to Somewhere in France, which focused on Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford (Lilly), who turned her back on her family’s wealth and status to become an ambulance driver in France during the Great War. Jennifer Robson’s latest novel tells the story of Lilly’s close friend and former governess, Charlotte Brown, an Oxford educated woman who works in the constituency office of Eleanor Rathbone in Liverpool. Charlotte’s story focuses on her desire to speak for the families left hungry and homeless after the war due to their inability to find work and her need to overcome her feelings for Lilly’s brother, Edward, who has just assumed his role as Earl of Cumberland following his father’s death. The novel takes readers back in time to the beginning of her relationship with Edward and her work during the war as a nurse at a hospital for officers with shell shock. Charlotte is the only one who can help Edward, who is still suffering the effects of the war, and she must do so knowing that class differences will forever keep them apart.
Why I wanted to read it: Somewhere in France made the list of best books I read in 2014, so I just had to continue the story. There will be a third book as well, according to the author interview at the back of the book, and I can’t wait!
What I liked: I absolutely adore Robson’s writing, which is infused with so much emotion and detail without being flowery, so readers really get a sense of what England was like in the year after the armistice. World War I ushered in so many changes in terms of gender and social class, and Charlotte embodies these. She works hard to put her education to use in a meaningful job, but that same education makes some of the people who come to her office wary of accepting her help. At the same time, she is merely a vicar’s daughter from Somerset and not high enough up the social ladder to be a suitable wife for the man she loves. Robson perfectly captures the discontent among the working class and the lingering effects of the war. I also was glad to catch up with Lilly and Robbie, the main characters of the first book, and was delighted to encounter some references to Jane Austen within these pages.
What I disliked: Nothing! I loved this book from start to finish, and I nearly read the whole thing in one sitting.
Final thoughts: After the War Is Over is a powerful novel about a country recovering from a devastating war, as seen through the eyes of a woman ahead of her time. It’s more than just a romance novel and more than just a novel about war. Robson emphasizes the struggles faced by women as they sought more for themselves than just a husband and family, but most of all, she writes about the hope people like Charlotte possessed amid so much loss and grief and change. Like Charlotte says to Edward, “There’s no use feeling sorry for yourself or fretting about the past. You need to make the most of the life that has been given to you.” This may be only the third book I’ve read so far this year, but it’s definitely a contender for my Best of 2015 list!
Disclosure: I received After the War Is Over from William Morrow for review.
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