Today is 11 November, Remembrance Day in France and a fitting day to be reviewing a book which starts in WWI and ends in WWII – a story of romance against a background of the horror of War.
Written by Canadian MK Tod’s Unravelled tells how in October 1935, Edward Jamieson’s memories of war and a passionate love affair resurface when an invitation to a WWI memorial ceremony at Vimy Ridge arrives. Although reluctant to re-visit the scenes of horror he has spent years trying to forget, Edward accepts, wondering if the might discover what happened to Helene Noisette, the woman he once pledged to marry. Travelling through the French countryside with his wife Ann, Edward sees nothing but reminders of war. A chance encounter with Helene at the dedication ceremony causes Edward to put his present life in jeopardy.
When WWII erupts a few years later, Edward is caught up in the world of training espionage agents, while Ann counsels grieving women and copes with the daily threats facing those she loves. And once again, secrets and war threaten the bonds of marriage.
A story of love, duty and sacrifice set amongst the turmoil of war.
I recently visited Vimy Ridge, a place of quiet contemplation, lush green meadows and a starkly white memorial. It was interesting to read how MK Tod interpreted what life would have been like for the soldiers who lived through the horrors of war in this strategic battle site. The book is clearly well researched and has a lot of detail and descriptions of daily life – in the trenches, in the downtime when soldiers were able to visit towns, buy a beer in a café and fall in love with the French girls they met.
The characters are well researched, MK Tod does not make them perfect, Ann and Edward both make mistakes, and they’re very human. You feel how living through two world wars changed society, changed people. The loss of family and, loved ones meant that people lived their lives differently, took chances that they may not have done in a safer world. For Edward and Ann it meant taking chances and risking their marriage and love. Living lives of secrets and pain, sacrifice and torment, pulled apart by duty and desire as their lives unfold over the years.
A serious book full of detail of what life was like for ordinary people whose lives were forever changed by war. From those who fought, to those who waited behind hoping against hope that their loved ones would return. In places poignant, in places quite lusty, very detailed historical research and although a sombre theme it is compelling and an interesting read.
We asked MKTod what inspired her to write Unravelled:
At the age of seventy-five, my grandmother died on the way to her second wedding. I had often thought such a dramatic curtain on life would make a good story and one day, I decided to write about her life. This was at a time when I had become a ‘trailing spouse’ living in Hong Kong, away from family and friends and had very little to do.
I’m impulsive so I plunged right in drafting a prologue set on the day of her death with the thought that the story would then go back to the 1920s when she met my grandfather. I soon realized that to create a story based on the lives of my grandparents, I would have to understand WWI, the Depression and WWII.
My research led me to read soldiers’ diaries lovingly transcribed by relatives to honour long ago sacrifice. I found regiments maintaining information about those who served in WWI, the weapons used and uniforms worn, the rations eaten and songs sung. A world of chaos and bungling and death emerged and I became utterly captivated.
I discovered that my grandfather had been involved with a spy training camp in a secret location fifty miles from Toronto. I was really intrigued and as part of writing Unravelled, I researched as much as I could about WWII spy training and incorporated some of this into the storyline.
MK Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her novel, Unravelled is available in paperback and e-book formats from Amazon.