A Century of November
Evocative. Haunting. Engrossing. These are the words that echoed through my mind as I read this wonderful novel. Set in the closing weeks of WWI, it traces the journey of a recently widowed apple-grower who, after learning that his only son was killed in Flanders, sets out to find him. It’s a journey that takes him across Canada by train as the Spanish flu epidemic is starting, then across the Atlantic by ship to England. There he discovers his son had a girlfriend, Elaine Reed, who is likely carrying their baby. A young woman determined to discover the last resting place of her lover. Following on her heels, Charles Marden finds himself in a place worse than hell, the very recently abandoned battlefields of Europe, a place of pilgrimage and death.
Told in a combination of first and third person, this tale of love, loss and hope plunges the reader into a chaotic and heart-wrenching period. From its opening on Vancouver Island to its closing on the battlefield of Ypres, it takes the reader along with Marden through richly detailed prose, powerful imagery and a riveting narrative.
Marden himself is a highly sympathetic protagonist. We want him to find Elaine. Even more, we want him to find some kind of peace. Losing his wife and son in such quick succession has cast him adrift, and in his search for Elaine we sense a quiet desperation for some return to normalcy, once he has seen where his son died and met the woman who carries his grandchild. The secondary characters are many, and while few of them occupy more than a few paragraphs or a few pages each, they all come alive and serve a purpose, especially the battle-scarred veterans who refuse to leave the trenches in which they’d fought for so long. Very highly recommended.