The Stars in the Night by Clare Rhoden
This novel of Australia at various points in the twentieth century is a powerful comment on the First World War, and contains some of the most intense writing on life in battle that I have come across. It concerns the strength of relationships between men under fire, the terror of daily life in the trenches, the extreme emotions of loss in war and peace. It manages to be a book about men at war, and families seeking out peace. It is informative, as men are shown as willing to volunteer to fight on the other side of the world in the First World War. It relates something of the disaster of Gallipoli, the frustration of the fighting in France, and the reception of returning soldiers. I enjoyed the characters, was amazed at some of the settings, and appreciated the plot. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book for a blog tour.
The book opens in Australia in 1970, as Harry Fletcher seeks to come to terms with the loss of his wife while spending time with his granddaughter Kate. The people of the area know him as solid and reliable, but there are hints that there is much more to him. The novel then goes back to December 1914, when Harry reveals that he has volunteered to go across the world to fight, together with Eddie who his family have rescued from the street. They realise that this means saying goodbye to more than just their families, but also the young women that they have just met. Their first experience of war is varied but overwhelming, they also have other experiences which mark their swift growing into adulthood. The device of one of the men keeping a journal adds to the sense of immediacy and adds to the texture of the novel. This is a book which creates characters and places them in settings that feel real, a genuine achievement by this writer. The plot reflects much about the time and the people, volunteering for war which turns out to be so tragic, and the fact that there were so many men that did not come home. I particularly enjoyed reading of the strong women who kept life going even in the face of loss and separation.
It would be curious to say that I enjoyed this book, but I felt that it flowed and achieved much in its moderately short length. As a family story, an insight into why men volunteered to fight in a war far away, and a testament to the friendship that can exist in times of trial, this book works brilliantly. Never overworked, the writing manages to convey what fighting in the trenches was actually like in deceptively simple terms, as well as the pain of loss of important people. Touching, effective and illuminating, this is a worthy addition to the number of books relating to the First World War, and gives a fascinating view of the muddy reality of war.
By the way, Happy Easter! Life in a Vicarage at this time is hardly peaceful or restful, but at least there is chocolate. A couple of weddings and a christening in addition to services makes for a busy Northernvicar!