Refuse to Forget

Written by John Bishop
Review by Jeffrey Manton

Refuse to Forget is a First World War novel with a twist: the carnage of the field hospital. Harry Butler is a starry-eyed mechanic on a great estate when his rich and glamorous employer, Lady Hester, commandeers him to drive her Wolsey ambulance in the company of her daughter and an eccentric, aristocratic suffragette, Lady Magda. Harry is fourteen and knows little of the world. His eyes are about to be well and truly opened. Lady Hester brooks no nonsense. Turned down by her own side, she offers to help the Belgians, and they cross back and forth between enemy lines with the German army on their heels and guns to left and right. It is chaos. It is bloody. Nobody thinks they will make it back in one piece, quite literally, and they are even taken as spies.

This is John Bishop’s third novel. He writes with clarity and finesse and the scenes in the field hospitals and the horror of bombed towns and shot villagers is palpable. Lady Hester is a character with spark and we sweep from the war to the general strike with aplomb. Unfortunately the pace can be a little hard-going in places. It is not always clear what the actual quest is: the story occasionally lurches from episode to episode which, while absorbing, does not weave into a plot. The characters are one-dimensional in terms of being posh or underdogs, bad Germans or good Germans. It is not clear if anyone changes for the better.

The cover is not especially eye-catching, and cream paper not white would be easier on the eye. However, readers who are interested in WW1 stories, and the Downton Abbey-type sagas will enjoy the novel.