We’ll meet again.
Publisher: Borough Press (HarperCollins)
First Published: 22nd May 2014
Date Reviewed: 16th August 2016
Riley returned from WWI a changed man, half his jaw missing. Surgery made up for some of it; Nadine still wants to marry him though her family worry about his prospects – it doesn’t seem to matter to employers that he served his country when he’s disfigured and thus deemed a discomforting presence. Riley’s worried about how Nadine will view him and in turn Nadine is worried about Riley’s depression; she doesn’t care that his looks have changed. Then there’s Peter and Julia – Peter served with Riley and came back physically unharmed but the war has taken its toll on his mind. Julia, in an attempt to reach him, experimented with cosmetics and has damaged her skin. Will either couple return to how they were?
The Heroes’ Welcome is the sequel to Young’s previous book, My Dear, I Wanted To Tell You. This fact is not noted; fortunately the book works as a standalone or at least it seems to – readers of the first book say it does matter, that you need to read them in order. The Heroes’ Welcome is a fair look at disability in the context of the war, it just doesn’t have much of a plot or character development going on.
On that word, ‘fair’, it’s fair to say the book goes a good way towards showing social issues and personal rehabilitation but doesn’t go quite as far as one might hope. It shows PTSD and the effects of the disorder on families – one of those topics that doesn’t get looked at much – but the main bulk of the development in this way is confined to a few pages. Young knew about the hospitals and healing through the work of her aunt (I discovered this after having read the book) which means that when the subject is concentrated it’s special. In those few pages is a wonderful overview of what you’re already starting to understand, the juxtaposition of society saying, ‘welcome back and thank you for your service!’ and ‘I’m not sure you can do this work and anyway you’ll scare people – no job for you’. It both harks back to the post-war days and illustrates what is unfortunately still the case today.
The writing is pretty good. It flows well and in the main rings true, however there are some anachronisms – ‘epically’, ‘those ones’, and the rather odd ‘losable’, for example. Young slots a first person thought narrative into the third person narration which makes the text choppy at times. Phrasing can be vague.
Young was inspired by the work of another writer who used Homer in conjunction with the events of WWI, showing how related the ancient text is to the later war. It’s interesting but the sense of fascination and seeming originality in Young’s book is marred by this fact of copying – something only divulged in the afterword, after you’ve finished it. And if you haven’t read Homer or don’t know the stories well, it may be a problem. It may be best to read Homer or to get your knowledge of The Iliad down to pat first… which given the nature and length of that text…
In sum, The Heroes’ Welcome sports nice language, good ideas, and isn’t a bad read, but there’s not much going on and for all the promise in the veterans’ stories, the book is lacking in substance. The ending is a bit of a rushed, convenient, job. The book would work best as further reading, say if you’ve completed Anna Hope’s Wake and want something that looks at the war in a similar light. It’s not, as the quotation on the cover says, the book to read about the war if you’re only ever going to read a single one.
November 5, 2016, 2:44 pm
Yeah, I read My Dear I Wanted to Tell You (I think? I definitely read a book by this author), and I felt the same, that it didn’t go far enough. I wasn’t wild about the writing either. Sad, cause I love reading about the aftermath of the world wars!
November 12, 2016, 9:57 am
Jenny: Yes, if you’ve read a book by her it would be My Dear. Interesting you say that – I wondered if it was the case across the board (and it’s part of the reason I’ve not looked much at her recent release despite the absolutely stunning cover).