Meadowlands

Written by Elizabeth Jeffrey
Review by Caroline Wilson

Meadowlands is a family saga that begins and ends with World War I. The aristocratic Barsham family experiences the war firsthand: daughter Millie becomes an ambulance driver while son James enlists in the army. Son Ned is a conscientious objector until he can no longer bear the pressure; he soon enlists as a stretcher bearer. The novel focuses mostly on the eldest daughter, Gina. As the only Barsham sibling left on the estate, she is devastated by personal tragedy and searches for meaning to her privileged life. She soon discovers the awful conditions in which the wives and children of England’s army men are forced to live. Gina becomes the personal crusader of these forgotten ones, much to the displeasure of her mother and father.

Meadowlands bring an interesting perspective to the very popular World War I historical fiction subgenre. Most novels focus on the horrors witnessed by those participating at the Front, but Jeffrey’s portrayal of the deprivations of the home front is fascinating. Gina’s work as a letter writer, and her opening of a much-needed soup kitchen, is a welcome departure from the usual. However, there are some clichéd elements. Sir Geoffrey Barsham and his wife, Lady Adelaide, are typical spoiled, selfish aristocrats, while all of the Barsham children are completely devoid of any negative character traits. They all seem determined to be modern, benevolent free- thinkers in a time when change was rife but also slow to come about. There are a few slips in language as well, thoroughly modern expressions that jar the reader from the period. But despite these missteps, lovers of the early 20th century will enjoy this unique tale.