Before muttering about World Book Night and associated subjects, I’m determined to write about Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn.
This is an exceptionally well written, fascinating, even inspiring book that I would recommend it widely. It does take as its subjects cricket, the World War One and the fight to train in medicine, and was inspired by the fight for votes for women. The most moving element of the book is the sheer humanity of both the main and other characters as they face the challenges of war, marriage, illness and pure loneliness. It is the sort of book that is difficult to read in one sitting, as the writing is so intense. There is the despair of war in the latter part of the book, when the futility of orders given by generals and the sheer loss which results is almost painfully revealed. The last part of the book is an amazing achievement in terms of conveying the horror of the battlefield and the fight to save life and limb fought by women as nurses (and less commonly, doctors). The romantic theme is not overplayed, but love in many guises is presented, both fulfilled and frustrated. This is in many ways a sad book, but it is also a book about the hope of individuals, when even a sister who has made a practical, if not a loving marriage fights back.
The title and main inspiration for the book is the fight for women’s equality. Having looked at the contemporary magazine Votes for Women in the Working Class Movement Library in Salford, Manchester (thanks, LC) I got a flavour of the tremendous risk that these women were taking in fighting for the vote and more. It was not possible to ‘have it all’; not all men would accept women who risked their liberty to protest against injustice, and marriage was not an option if all energy had to be devoted to fighting for a career that had long been male preserves. The ending is realistic and rewarding, but there is a sense of loss. I really enjoyed this book and did not want to finish it, but there were equally times when I had to put it down because it was so real. It is like a feminist version of Birdsong, but so much more. I have noticed a lot of reviews and fuss about this book, and it is all deserved. It is not just a war book, not just a book of votes for women. It is a book for anyone who is at all interested in the period and the roles of women and men. And it is just a very, very good read.