My Dear I Wanted to Tell You

The Glorious English Countryside in 2014

The Glorious English Countryside in 2014

Louisa Young, London journalist and novelist, and wife of a composer, grew up in the house where the story Peter Pan was written by Sir J. M. Barrie. Some older readers will remember the boy who does not want to grow up and lives with other Lost Boys (who fell out of their baby prams) in the fairy world across the street in Kensington Gardens, in “Neverland.” The flying child visits the Darling children at night, and with her brothers, the memorable girl named Wendy follows him home and runs into all kinds of terrible adversaries, most notably (in my memory of my mother’s copy of the book) a pirate named Captain Hook who had lost his hand to a crocodile.

I only learned after finished Young’s stunning novel MY DEAR I WANTED TO TELL YOU of the house connection. The fictional Darlings lived about where writer Barrie had his home, and where in this novel, in 1914, Nadine’s family resides nearby. For over 100 years tourists have visited the elaborate Peter Pan statue the writer erected for the children of London. Its woodland charm hardly recalls the dangers illustrated by  Arthur Rackham in the book’s 1904 edition.

Child Going to Kensington Gardens 2014

Child Going to Kensington Gardens 2014

 

Young’s novel does. When Riley, a working class boy who plays in the park, is introduced to his friend Nadine’s artistic upper class world, and eventually falls in love with her, he is innocent of the war to come.  Objections to their marriage is the wall that causes him to enlist for what is supposed to be a short battle but continues on through four hellish years during which flesh and blood, bone and  putrifying wounds thoroughly rid Riley of any romantic illusions.

Brompton Cemetery in West London

Brompton Cemetery in West London

In January 2014, while living in London, my husband and I happened upon a remarkable musical by Phil Willmott, based on Peter Pan, in which the Lost Boys are recruited for the Great War and have to face adulthood. I don’t recall ever before leaving a theater visibly crying. It was completely sold out.  In June we saw War Horse, also stirring. These prepared me for Young’s dark and realistic novel, the best one I know to capture the psychological horror of having to trade Christian conscience for patriotism in order to kill other men, and the dehumanizing aftermath of disturbed minds. It also documents the emerging art of reconstructive facial surgery. The parallel action on the home front shows that women, too, were evolving from pretty adornments in gentlemen’s lives into persons on their own who learned to  cope by finding a larger purpose to their lives.

Sophie Redesigned

In my first mystery novel there is an underpinning war theme. SOPHIE REDESIGNED introduces a villainous family corporation with the means to quench the desire for revenge against those responsible for the war deaths of brothers, fathers, husbands and friends. In reflection on why I chose that theme — minimally, the nearly invisible thread of Sophie’s Jewish family history woven through my series — I realize that Sophie would remember World War I. It would be from an American perspective, of course, but nevertheless horrific, and tangible in the streets of New York where she spent her early childhood. There would have been in her experience many  legless beggars, starving orphans, and maybe even faceless relatives shut up in back rooms of houses. There would be marriages broken by the changes in personalities, much more permanent that the changes in fortune. Many of Sophie’s generation would go on to rebuild their lives, cope with another war, and wake up one day in a suburban development of split level homes with a car in the garage in the 1960s. Other would never recover.

 

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