Reviewed by Emma Crowley
With the end of the First World War, Rose is looking forward to welcoming home her beloved husband, Alfie, from the battlefields. But his return is not what Rose had expected. Traumatised by what he has seen, the Alfie who comes home is a different man to the one Rose married. As he struggles to cope with life in peacetime, Rose wrestles with temptation as the man she fell in love with seems lost forever.
Many years later, Jess returns from her final tour of Afghanistan. Haunted by nightmares from her time at the front, her longed-for homecoming is a disaster and she wonders if her life will ever be the same again. Can comfort come through her great-grandmother Rose’s diaries?
For Jess and Rose, the realities of war have terrible consequences. Can the Poppy Factory, set up to help injured soldiers, rescue them both from the heartache of war?
The Poppy Factory is the third novel from Liz Trenow, a book which I raced through in a day it was that good. With a dual storyline set between the past and present, two strong female characters, romance and a historical element, this book had all the ingredients I look for in a good read. This is not light, fluffy chick lit but a stand out novel in women’s historical fiction. The Poppy Factory was one of those books that I started late at night just to read a few chapters before bed needless to say I had half of it read before I knew where the time had gone. This novel just sucks you in from the opening chapter and doesn’t let you go until the very last line.
The two main characters are both female and their stories are told in the modern day and at the conclusion of World War One. Jess is just returning from a tour of Afghanistan where she has spent six months working as a combat medical technician. Through helping wounded soldiers she has witnessed many horrors and came close to death herself on several occasions. It was great to see a female character that had a job that was slightly different to the norm, it made me have great respect for Jess. Despite her troubles I thought she was brave, strong and determined to take on the job in a warzone. But as with every war Jess soon feels the effects of the traumatic events she has witnessed and experienced. She turns to alcohol as a way of suppressing her feelings and emotions leading to nightmares, trouble sleeping and soon cracks appear in the relationship with her boyfriend. Before she knows it her life is spiralling out of control and she is unable to function on a day to day basis until a chance discussion with her mother leads her to the discovery of her great grandmother Rose's diaries. This will be the turning point that Jess needs to move on with her life.
We get to know Rose through her diary entries from the conclusion of World War One and for several years at the beginning of her marriage to Alfie. I love books where the story is told in diary form and I felt this really helped the flow of The Poppy Factory. The diary element also established clear connections and similarities Jess and Rose. Both strong women born many years apart but yet still dealing with the same issues surrounding the aftermath of war. In fact I became so enthralled in Rose’s story I even forgot at times that Jess featured in the novel. Rose was another strong female character- resilient and unrelenting in her quest to help her husband settle back to normal life after his duties in the war were completed. Alfie is injured in while helping French citizens repair their village leading to the loss of his leg and like Jess he turns to alcohol as a way of forgetting his problems. There are lots of ups and downs in the marriage and day to day life of Rose and Alfie and their various family members, just as you think things are starting to go their way something else comes along and upsets their efforts at happiness.
Rose was stoic and determined to find the happy life she deserved trying everywhere to get work and help get Alfie back on track. But when someone like Alfie is suffering and on a permanent slide downhill refusing all offers of help sometimes we have to let that person reach the bottom before they can see the light. I felt Rose really was an independent woman at a time when women were struggling to achieve equal rights with men and she didn’t let anything get in her way no matter how many times she was let down.
As the novel progresses the connections between Jess and Rose become clear and in a way it is sad to read how shell shock or PTSD as it is now known is still affecting men and women today over one hundred years later. Just one more excellent aspect of the novel was The Poppy Factory itself, of course we all see the poppies every year on remembrance day but it was really interesting to read how this all came about and how it still continues to help disabled soldiers returning from war today.
With the anniversary of World War One, no doubt there will be an influx of novels on the topic but this novel is a little gem and richly deserves it’s place on the bookshelves. I’m just left wondering what era Liz Trenow will transport us to next.
I'd like to thank Emma for reviewing this eBook which we received from the publisher via NetGalley.