|The Poppy Field by Deborah Carr
My review today is for The Poppy Field, the second historical novel by Deborah Carr.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.
Young nurse, Gemma, is struggling with the traumas she has witnessed through her job in the NHS. Needing to escape from it all, Gemma agrees to help renovate a rundown farmhouse in Doullens, France, a town near the Somme. There, in a boarded-up cupboard, wrapped in old newspapers, is a tin that reveals the secret letters and heartache of Alice Le Breton, a young volunteer nurse who worked in a casualty clearing station near the front line.
Set in the present day and during the horrifying years of the war, both women discover deep down the strength and courage to carry on in even the most difficult of times. Through Alice’s words and her unfailing love for her sweetheart at the front, Gemma learns to truly live again.
This is a beautifully written epic historical novel that will take your breath away.
I enjoyed getting to know Gemma, discovering why she is alone in a run-down farmhouse in the Somme area of France and what had happened to make her run away from her old life. It is soon apparent that her sadness and vulnerability are only partly masked by her independence. Fate, or maybe the farmhouse itself, leads her to local builder Tom, who soon begins to help her with her task of restoring the house, so her father can sell it. Tom and Gemma both have secrets from their past, but it’s the discovery of a box of letters, hidden in an outbuilding on the farm, that help them decide what they want for the future.
The letters take us back to 1918 where volunteer nurse Alice Le Breton is working in a casualty clearing station not far from the frontline trenches. Just like Gemma, I too became absorbed in Alice’s life; the exhaustion, the relentless convoys bringing in more wounded men, the strict rules imposed on the girls by Matron and the nursing sisters. Deborah’s writing brought to life the horrors of trench warfare from the point of view of the nurses, most of whom had little training or experience before the war. The dirt, the lice, the infected wounds and then the gas attacks, meant there wasn’t much for them to look forward to, especially as fraternising with the patients was forbidden.
Alice was dedicated to her job, independent and determined to live her life to the full, despite the risks involved, and I didn’t want to stop reading until I discovered what became of her after the war ended.
This book switches from one era to another, which worked well for me, and I also enjoyed seeing the similarities between Gemma and Alice, as well as discovering places with Gemma in 2018, that Alice had visited in 1918. This is a well-researched book that I think is a beautiful tribute to mark the 100thanniversary of the end of the First World War.
Deborah Carr lives on the island of Jersey in the Channel Islands with her husband, two children and three rescue dogs. She became interested in books set in WW1 when researching her great-grandfather's time as a cavalryman in the 17th 21st Lancers.
She is part of ‘The Blonde Plotters’ writing group and was Deputy Editor on the online review site, Novelicious.com for seven years. Her debut historical romance, Broken Faces, is set in WW1 and was runner-up in the 2012 Good Housekeeping Novel Writing Competition and given a 'special commendation' in the Harry Bowling Prize that year. The Poppy Field is her second historical novel.
The Poppy Field is out now in ebook and paperback format and is a must read for those who enjoy well-researched fiction set during the First World War. Links to Amazon can be found below.
You might also like Deborah’s first historical novel Broken Faces, also set during the First World War. If you are interested in historical reads, where romance and history are nicely combined, I’m sure you will enjoy it. You can read my full review here.