If You Go Away by Adele Parks

My thanks to Lovereading.co.uk for the review copy.

Due to be published 4 June 2015 by Headline Review.

About the book

1914. Vivian, a young, impassioned debutante is hurried into a pedestrian marriage to cover a scandal. War breaks out on her wedding day – domestically and across Europe. Quick to escape the disappointment of matrimony, her traditionalist husband immediately enlists and Vivian has no alternative than to take up the management and running of his estate – after all, everyone is required to do their bit. Even pretty, inadequately-educated young wives. Howard, a brilliant young playwright rushes to the front to see for himself the best and the worst of humanity; he cannot imagine what the horror might be. In March 1916, when conscription becomes law, it is no longer enough for him to report on the War, it’s a legal requirement that he joins the ranks. Howard refuses, becoming one of the most notorious conscientious objectors of the time. Disarmingly handsome, famous, articulate and informed, he’s a threat to the government. Narrowly escaping a death sentence by agreeing to take essential work on Vivian’s farm, it’s only then Howard understands what is worth fighting for.

My thoughts

This was different from the Adele Parks novels I have read before in that it wasn’t contemporary fiction. It is set just before and during The Great War, a time period I am very interested in. Initially I didn’t warm to the character of Vivian, finding her a bit irritating, empty headed and too concerned with finding a husband during her debutante season. However, a bad decision means she had to grow up rather quickly. She is rushed into a marriage to avoid scandal but the marriage has an inauspicious start: war is about to be declared, the glamorous European honeymoon she expected is cancelled, the wedding night is not exactly a success and her new husband, Aubrey, soon enlists in the army. The other main character, Howard, is a successful, handsome young playwright, popular with the ladies. After seeing the horrors of war while travelling with a journalist, he refuses to enlist and is imprisoned as a conscientious objector.  Adele Parks writes vividly about some of the horrific scenes that Howard sees. I felt that she also depicted really well the way in which conscientious objectors were viewed by serving soldiers, family members, people in the community and total strangers. Far from being cowards, it took a lot of courage to stand up and refuse to fight.

The novel really became compelling for me when Vivian and Howard meet, after his mother persuades Vivian to take him on for farm work, saving him from a court martial. The growing attraction between them is evident and is not surprising given Vivian’s disappointing and loveless marriage. Unable to resist their growing desire, they become reckless and impulsive. I felt conflicting emotions while reading. Vivian and Howard are so obviously passionate about each other and yet she is a married woman in a time when divorce was a scandal.  “They had stepped outside society. People in love did.” I almost found myself (like Vivian) wishing her husband some harm! It is so tense waiting for their relationship to be revealed as you feel it inevitably must.

This book is perhaps a slowburner to start with but is definitely worth persevering with. Adele Parks writes so well about friendships and relationships. To paraphrase, she has really captured ‘the love, the passion, the power and the accompanying anguish that escorts love throughout a war’.

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