The Heroes’ Welcome
The Heroes’ Welcome, Louisa Young’s sequel to her well-received novel My Dear I Wanted to Tell You, opens in March 1919. Peter and Julia Locke, Riley Purefoy, Nadine Waveney, and Rose Locke have survived. Each character has suffered and now faces the challenge of getting on with life.
For Peter, psychological damage leaves him unable to cope. For Riley the loss of part of his jaw is a constant reminder, one that marks every encounter with family, friends and strangers. As nurses, Nadine and Rose dealt with the war’s shattered soldiers every day. Poorly equipped to be anything but pretty, Julia has failed as a mother and a soldier’s wife.
Young’s story plays out almost entirely in 1919, vividly depicting the attitudes of those who fought, those who commanded, those in support roles and those who remained out of harm’s way. The British propensity for a stiff upper lip is on full display. Tragedy and gloom mix with hints of hope. Trauma is part of the human condition, and yet individual after individual fails to acknowledge the trauma Peter, Riley and others suffered. Guilt is front and centre. And Louisa Young confronts us with the haunting question: who can understand and assuage that guilt?
While the story might have been more compelling if the author had not alternated points of view amongst the five characters, the writing style captured my imagination immediately. 1919 comes alive in terms of attitudes, social norms, work life, and post-war politics. The main characters are well drawn, although minor characters felt somewhat two-dimensional: the overbearing aristocratic father, the nasty mother-in-law, the disinterested mother, the wise would-be lover. These are minor flaws. Having read many novels set around World War One, I can highly recommend The Heroes’ Welcome.