Andrew Cowan's fifth novel takes a loud subject - the First World War; its casualties and the disastrous effect it has on an English town - and quietens it with detail . . . it is heartening to see a writer with several books behind him take a risk.
Distinguished by its remarkable close focus on life in Britain and the families back home. From multiple viewpoints, Cowan - a highly talented but still under-recognised novelist - follows working-class teenager Walter, troubled officer Montague, and the girl who attracts them both, beautiful Gertie, the daughter of their local chemist-cum-vet-cum-abortionist. Both Montague and Gertie's father have a keen amateur interest in "eugenical science", which held out a crazed initial hope that the war would be good for the fitness of the species . . . memorable for its time-travelling density of period evocation
Cowan's serious-minded project suggests, intriguingly, an un-spoken truth - that the lack of all those young soldiers on the home front meant a calmer, saner society . . . Yet this is no romanticised history - Cowan never lets us forget the earthy truths of life
His voices ring so true they break your heart. This novel has the feel of an elegiac poem and is an absolute delight to read.
A wonderful and moving book, wholly original in its treatment of the war's bleak surrealism. I was completely transported. It's sensuous and funny and somehow manages never to be moralising.
A brilliant novel, original, powerfully written, and very moving
Provincial realism it may be; to suggest it's nothing special is too modest by half.
Packed with beautiful period details . . . His style is creative but the creativity serves the story and there's never the feeling, as can be the case, of the style getting in the way of the lives of these people. The result is a haunting, and often moving, record of life in a market town during the Great War.