Bitter Harvest Moon
1914, Hull. When war is declared, Emily Walker is an impressionable eleven-year-old. Her two elder brothers join up, as does Robert, the boy next door to their new family home, who joins the Royal Flying Corps as a pilot. Emily matures and falls in love with Robert, but it is her mother’s sister, Aunt Eleanor, an independent ex-suffragette, who influences her, more so than her father, a stern bank manager, and her mother, a housewife who keeps their home in perfect order.
Situated on the east coast of England and a major port, Hull is a target for German warfare from the air, in the form of Zeppelins, and sea. Bitter Harvest Moon shows the devastation. When Edward is killed on the western front and David is discharged from the army suffering from shell shock (now understood as PTSD), Emily’s mother suffers from depression, and her father’s staunch belief in traditional values is rattled. With the news that Robert has been reported as missing and presumed dead, Emily faces even more anguish. When he dies, not from war but a car crash once back home, the futility of war hits her hard.
Although the novel is fastidiously researched, Emily is too passive to be a compelling lead character. She doesn’t make things happen; things happen to her. She works in a London hospital briefly but mainly stays in Hull, and while realistic, this doesn’t make for a gripping story. The author knows his history and renders it, in great detail, at the expense of page-turning action. The novel will resonate with those who know Hull, but otherwise may be of limited interest, given the very many books that describe life in the fateful years of 1914-1918.