Somewhere in France – Jennifer Robson

Somewhere in France: A Novel of the Great War

Published on 30 January 2014 by Harper Collins 360

From Goodreads:

Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford wants to travel the world, pursue a career, and marry for love. But in 1914, the stifling restrictions of aristocratic British society and her mother’s rigid expectations forbid Lily from following her heart. When war breaks out, the spirited young woman seizes her chance for independence. Defying her parents, she moves to London and eventually becomes an ambulance driver in the newly formed Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps—an exciting and treacherous job that takes her close to the Western Front.

Assigned to a field hospital in France, Lily is reunited with Robert Fraser, her dear brother Edward’s best friend. The handsome Scottish surgeon has always encouraged Lily’s dreams. She doesn’t care that Robbie grew up in poverty—she yearns for their friendly affection to become something more. Lily is the most beautiful—and forbidden—woman Robbie has ever known. Fearful for her life, he’s determined to keep her safe, even if it means breaking her heart.

In a world divided by class, filled with uncertainty and death, can their hope for love survive. . . or will it become another casualty of this tragic war?

My thoughts:

The story begins in July 1914. Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford (Lilly)  has led a privileged but stifled life at home. Her parents would not let her have a formal education, instead she was tutored at home, thankfully by someone who would instill in her a sense of her own worth. Lilly had an independent nature but was so unworldly. She was desperate to break free from the strict confines of her aristocratic upbringing and do something worthwhile with her life – she wanted to travel, have a career and choose who she wanted to marry however her parents had other ideas and ‘suitable’ young men were being foisted on her. Lilly’s heart however belonged to another – Robert Fraser, a young doctor and the best friend of her older brother Edward. Unfortunately Robert was not the type of man that her parents had envisaged for her. He was from a poor background in Glasgow and despite his achievements in becoming a respected surgeon, her mother did not consider him good enough and did her best to come between them. However when circumstances force Lilly to leave home, she sees a way to get to France to be near Robert (currently working at a hospital on the front line) and to do her duty for the war effort; thus she enlists in the WAAC and is trained to be an ambulance driver.

The author’s family background and her own seemingly extensive research, made this an enjoyable read and the historical aspect was very well written. The comradeship and the eventual weariness and feeling of hopelessness that came from a war many thought would be over quickly was apparent. Both Lilly and Robert were strong characters although Lilly, as the mainstay of the story, stood out for me. She was determined to make her own life and unusually for someone in her privileged position, she had a very strong sense of justice and fairness, (which she certainly didn’t get from her parents). Her sheltered upbringing had left her totally ignorant about men and it was left to her friends in the WAAC to advise her when it came to conducting her romance with Robert which itself had drama and misunderstandings. Robert was torn when it came to his feelings for Lilly. He had previously encouraged her to have aspirations and a worthwhile career but when he discovered she was working as a driver in such dangerous conditions he was horrified.

My only slight disappointment was that despite it being set right at the heart of the battlefields, I did feel a lack of a human connection with regard to the soldiers and their fight for survival and what they went through. We were told how Lilly and her colleagues collected the wounded and dying amidst the shelling and drove them to the clearing hospitals for further treatment and how Robert and his fellow surgeons did their best to help them with limited resources but I had expected something more from a novel ostensibly about the war and that aspect of the story just seemed a bit impersonal and almost incidental. For me, this was more of a love story and whilst it was still very enjoyable was not quite what I was expecting.  Having said that, it is a very good debut novel and I’m sure it would be of interest if you enjoy reading historical fiction.

My thanks to Helena at Harper Collins 360 for the paperback copy for review. 

About the author:

 Jennifer Robson

Jennifer Robson first learned about the Great War from her father, acclaimed historian Stuart Robson, and later served as an official guide at the Canadian National War Memorial at Vimy Ridge, France. A former copy editor, she holds a doctorate in British economic and social history from the University of Oxford. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and young children.

Somewhere in France is Jennifer’s first novel.

Author website: Jennifer Robson

You can contact the author on Twitter and on Goodreads

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