8 December 2016

A Woman's Role in War: Somewhere in France

I've been having a great time getting back into reading regularly. The good thing (one of the few...) about not having a job at the moment is having the guiltless free time to actually read for pleasure. I am very drawn to two genres of fiction: historical and magical realism. Having recently finished the second Harry Potter book (I am slowly working through the series), it was time to get into history, and I chose Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson. I found this book and several others at a local secondhand shop, and I am so glad I did.

LET'S TALK PLOT: It is set during the first World War and predominately follows the journey of Lilly, a girl who was born into privilege and wealth in England but was ultimately unfulfilled as her parents would not allow her to receive a real education or to work. Her only supporter of wanting to do more with her life is Robbie, Lilly's brother's best friend and trained Scottish surgeon. Once the Great War begins, her brother Edward quickly joins the army, as does Robbie as a field surgeon near the Front. Lilly ends up leaving her parent's home, wanting to do what she feels is her duty, and is basically disowned afterwards. After spending some time in London making a living as a transit worker, she starts training for the WAAC (Women's Army Auxiliary Corps) right after it is founded as an ambulance driver. Throughout this time apart, Lilly and Robbie keep up a correspondence, and a very subtle romance begins between them. Having never worked before in her life, Lilly is now experiencing a new world with new "common" female friends and physically and emotionally draining work, especially when she is moved near the Front and is stationed, you guessed it, at the same field hospital as Robbie.

That's all I'll say about the plot, but it is fantastic for fellow history-lovers and, of course romance readers too. It naturally did remind me a bit of Downton Abbey, with the very restrained romantic relationship because nothing was overt in terms of love back then, especially with an upperclass woman like Lilly. But it made for excellent romantic and sexual tension between them, so the moments that do happen really stick with you and hold great significance.

WOMEN IN WWI: I finished the book with a feeling of great connection to the characters, especially Lilly and Robbie after everything they go through together and apart during the whole war. I wanted more, and that is always a good sign. I also became really interested in the topic of women's roles during World War I, as I had never learned more in school besides, yes, women taking up men's jobs as they fought away from home, but this book delved me deeper into that and the social implications and nuances that came with it. Plus, I've always had a great interest in the fashion, beauty, and design during wartime, and the book gave great descriptions. I've even found some relevant pictures in my own research:

The uniforms in the middle and right photo match the description of Lilly's uniform perfectly, and it's great to have that visual. With the kind of double skirts happening, both Lilly and Robbie describe the uniform as unflattering, and I could definitely see that! I can only imagine pants would have been more comfortable and easy to work with, but I have seen some versions with trousers... maybe that came later or for different positions.

FINAL THOUGHTS: All in all, I would definitely recommend this book, I think it took me a week and half to finish, which is fast for me because I am a slow reader. I couldn't stop myself from constantly going back to it during the day! The author, Jennifer Robson, has written two other books in this series of novels based during WWI, which I fully intend on reading. The next one, After the War is Over, is actually the same story continued but from the perspective of Edward, Lilly's brother who fought in the war, and Charlotte Brown — Lilly's friend and former governess with whom she lived with in London during Somewhere in France. (There was a hint of their relationship in the book, but it was never explained or elaborated on.) Of course, I wish it was more of Lilly and Robbie, but I am happy with the ending enough to be able to move on... hopefully!

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