The War Before Mine
On the face of it, Caroline Ross’s debut tells an oft told story. Soldier on the eve of action has whirlwind affair with a beautiful girl. A child ensues, but he’s gone missing in action and, this being the 1940s, she is forced to give the baby up for adoption. But Ross eschews the tropes of romantic fiction and confounds our expectations with a novel which is far more than a simple love story.
Ranging between the mid-1930s and 2006, with a chronological structure which is not always predictable but invariably works, the novel combines romance, action and social history. Ross writes with tremendous verve and seems as comfortable in the voice of the young soldier, Philip, as she is in that of her half-Romany heroine, Rosie. Her wide-ranging story is clearly very well researched, but she uses factual information skilfully, so that the reader doesn’t really notice it but nevertheless feels as if she is the hands of an author who knows her subject inside out. The plot twists and turns in so many directions, it keeps you in its grip to the very last page.
A hugely enjoyable read, easy yet well-informed, light yet crammed with poetic images and unafraid to confront the harshness of war and its long-lasting consequences.