Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott

Was it so wrong to feel that she had been treated unfairly? That she'd been judged and damned and had not had the right to defend herself?

I stayed up until 1am to finish this novel, set in 1921, following a veteran and a widow of World War I. It had shades of Graham Greene and Alfred Hitchcock, too: a vague menace stalking our main characters, who were trying to find peace in a Europe looking to neatly memorialize what had happened.

The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott
William Morrow Paperbacks, 2019
Review copy from publisher for blog tour
Historical Fiction reading challenge

I've mostly given up novels set in eitherWorld War I or World War II; I'd read so many that I was feeling like I was getting the same thing over and over. This is Caroline Scott's debut novel, and she manages to not only create a story with the hold-your-breath tension of a domestic thriller, but she also brilliantly (tearfully) evokes the terror and horror of trench combat.

Edie's husband Francis was an amateur photographer listed as missing, presumed dead in 1917. Her brother-in-law Harry swears he saw Francis die in combat. For the most part, Edie has come to terms with the unknowing, until one day she receives a portrait of Francis, sent to her without any note. The Francis she sees in the photograph looks impossibly old, too old to be the man she knew in 1917.

Haunted by his combat experience, and the only of his three brothers to have survived the war, Harry travels through Europe photographing graves and battle sites for families who can't afford to travel to them. Edie has begged him to find the place of Francis' death, a request even more urgent after the arrival of Francis' portrait.

Scott breaks her novel up into three parts -- Harry's search, Edie's search, and Harry's combat experience in 1917. Floating throughout the novel is this idea of what is past, what is present as villages and towns in France struggle to both commemorate the horror and loss from the war as well as move on and grow. Scott uses past tense for the portions in 1917 and present tense for those in 1921, and it brilliantly emphasizes -- and toys with -- what is done and what is unfolding, what we think is certain and what seems flexible.

I haven't read any novels set in the immediate aftermath of World War I, and I loved that Scott explored that time. Imagine having to come up with a way to commemorate the enormous loss of life and resources while also trying to survive! I hate to say I was captivated because that sounds so awful, but I was fascinated by this aspect of post-war life, and it made for a wonderful backdrop for characters who are unable to shed the past so cleanly.

I won't be forgetting this book soon.


  1. I don't read a lot of war books these days either because they feel like they're rehashing the same old story. It sounds like this book is worth exploring.

    1. Exactly. Even though there were familiar elements to the story, there was so much I hadn't read in a post-war narrative that I was just gripped.

  2. I like to read the War books as I feel that each story is slightly different and from a different angle. The setting may be war the countries and people differ and this adds a dimension to each story.

  3. I'm reading another book set in this time period and really loving it, so I think I'll get on this book next!

    Thanks for being on this tour!

  4. I too have been skipping WWII books because, really, how much more is there? Since you were reading late into the night, I think I need to add this to my list.

  5. I hear you about the same story over and over about the two world wars, but you know, they were so expansive and had such an impact on the world, there's always something new to learn about them and the times they took place.