1914. Vivian, a young, impassioned debutante is hurried into a pedestrian marriage to cover a scandal. War breaks out on her wedding day - domestically and across Europe. Quick to escape the disappointment of matrimony, her traditionalist husband immediately enlists and Vivian has no alternative than to take up the management and running of his estate - after all, everyone is required to do their bit. Even pretty, inadequately-educated young wives.
Howard, a brilliant young playwright rushes to the front to see for himself the best and the worst of humanity; he cannot imagine what the horror might be. In March 1916, when conscription becomes law, it is no longer enough for him to report on the War, it's a legal requirement that he joins the ranks. Howard refuses, becoming one of the most notorious conscientious objectors of the time. Disarmingly handsome, famous, articulate and informed, he's a threat to the government. Narrowly escaping a death sentence by agreeing to take essential work on Vivian's farm, it's only then Howard understands what is worth fighting for.
If You Go Away is the second historical fiction novel by Adele Parks. Having enjoyed this book I hope she stays writing in this genre as she has an exceptionally, skilful way with words which combined to tell an absorbing story of love during World War One. I will admit it was a slow burner and only really took off over halfway through but when it did there was no stopping the story unfolding and all the setting up really paid off. The author is adept at getting inside the head of her characters expressing all their thoughts, feelings and viewpoints. She really needed to be able to do this as initially some of the characters actions had me confused and I couldn't warm to them. But it is the mark of a talented author who can strongly justify what was happening within the story through their use of beautiful expressive language and descriptions.
Set just before and during World War One, we are introduced to 18 year old débutante Vivian Foster. She lives in London and is set upon finding a handsome man to marry. Nathaniel Thorpe is within her sights but an incident at a society event leaves her dreams in tatters. At first I found Vivian (even though I knew she was so young) to really have her head in the clouds and was not very aware of what was going on around her. She had been brought up in a certain manner and expected everything to go her way and for life to be easy and all the pieces of her story would slot into place. Her plans were rigid marry, children etc. all done step by step and by the book. I felt she was a snob and very up herself with her one sided opinions. 'Vivian liked rich people, properly rich'. But soon she finds herself married off in haste (to avoid further social upheaval) to Aubrey Owens. Her aspirations are shattered but at this stage I had no sympathy for her as she really had brought this marriage on herself through her reckless actions. On the day of her marriage Germany declares war on Russia and France in August of 1944. Soon Vivian finds herself moved to the small country village of Blackwell, far from everything she has known she feels isolated and cut off from her family even though Aubrey believes she will be safe here. Why she wonders should her husband be free to fight for his country and Vivian left alone and separated from her own family?
Chapters alternated between Vivian and our male protagonist - Howard Henderson, a playwright trying to produce the ultimate play which will catapult him onto the world wide stage. He seemed to be the man about town having any woman he wanted treating them mean and keeping them keen. But when war is announced he travels with a Daily Mail reporter to write articles and convey what is happening in France back to the people of England. Howard is deeply affected by what he witness' and cannot stand such pain and suffering. He understandably cannot see any justification for such bloody merciless killing and torture. Here we see a profound change in Howard and my opinion changed to. He became a strong man determined to stand up for what he believed in not giving into convention even though the ramifications would have huge, dangerous consequences. When Howard returns to England he is haunted by what everything that has unfolded before his eyes. Soon conscription is introduced and here is where I felt Howard really changed and came into his own. He stands firm and refuses to enlist. Reading this it made me realise I have never given much thought to men who had not entered the war. They are rarely mentioned and in this novel Adele Parks has given them a voice and you can fully comprehend the internal struggle Howard was going through. It certainly opened my eyes to an aspect of the war and this storyline enriched the book.
Only when Howard and Vivian finally meet in Blackwell (after she decides to employ him) did I feel the book really come into its own. Vivian is slowly coming to terms with the path now set out for her and Howard's mother Mrs. Henderson has done her best to help her acclimatise to such a different way of life. But when she sets eyes on Howard you literally see the sparks fly and Vivian must struggle with her emotions and what she feels is the correct thing to do. I can honestly say both the main characters go through such transformations and an epic love story unfolds before the readers eyes. Even though you may not approve of what Howard and Vivian do, I still felt they were far nicer characters in the later half of the book more so than when we first encountered them. I really was rooting for them and there were numerous twists and turns in the last few chapters some that had you literally gasping out loud. This is a remarkable story that has elevated Adele Parks to new heights and fans of historical fiction will soak this up for what it is an engaging, thought provoking, emotive love story set against the backdrop of one of the most horrifying events in world history. It delves deep into the hearts and minds of the people at the time and explores relationships and friendships in an extraordinary way. Make sure this takes centre stage in your reading piles this summer.
Thank you to Georgina Moore from from Headline for sending me a limited edition copy of If You Go Away to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.