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67. 'In Love And War' By Liz Trenow

Tuesday, 23 January 2018


Three women, once enemies. Their secrets will unite them.

The First World War is over. The war-torn area of Flanders near Ypres is no longer home to troops, but groups of tourists. Controversial battlefield tourism now brings hundreds of people to the area, all desperate to witness first-hand where their loved ones fell.

At the Hotel de la Paix in the small village of Hoppestadt, three women arrive, searching for traces of the men they have loved and lost.

Ruby is just twenty-one, a shy Englishwoman looking for the grave of her husband. Alice is only a little older but brimming with confidence; she has travelled all the way from America, convinced her brother is in fact still alive. Then there’s Martha, and her son Otto, who are not all they seem to be . . .

The three women in Liz Trenow’s In Love and War may have very different backgrounds, but they are united in their search for reconciliation: to resolve themselves to what the war took from them, but also to what life might still promise for the future . . .

Today on the blog I am featuring an exclusive extract from Liz Trenow's newest offering - 'In Love And War', published by Pan Macmillan January 25th, 2018. Thank you to Alice and Grace from Pan Macmillan for sending me a copy - review to follow shortly! I really enjoyed Liz's previous book, 'The Silk Weaver', and can't wait to share my thoughts with you as she tackles another era of historical fiction. 

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Such a weight of sorrow seemed freighted between the scuffed and torn pages of the Talbot House visitors’ books: the script of shaky hands, the smudges of ink, mud stains and smells of wood smoke, sweat and old tea leaves. What had happened to all these young men? Had any of them survived and, if so, were they injured, struggling to make sense of life after war? Where were they now?

After Alice left for the post office Ruby turned back to scan, without any particular expectation, the columns of names, dates, ranks and regiments. She studied especially the half dozen names she found from Bertie’s regiment. None were familiar, but might they have known him? Were they perhaps together at Talbot House with him? Did they witness his final hours? 

What saddened her most were the comments of strained jollity, belying the terror the men must surely have felt at the prospect of returning to those terrifying battlefields. Back to beat up the Boche once again, one wrote. May he go to hell in a hand cart. Some made her smile: This farce promises to be a great success and a long run is expected. Others made her want to cry: While I have the strength I will fight to save my country, or: If I go to heaven, let it be like Talbot House. 

She reached the final page of the final book and the last entry dated 11th November 1918 in the chaplain’s bold, open-looped hand: It is over at last. Pray God we never forget all those who suffered and died. P. Clayton. 

As she closed the book she felt his eyes on her. ‘No sign of your Bertie?’

She shook her head, too choked to speak. 

‘My dear, I understand how hard this must be.’ 


Tubby took out a large white handkerchief and gave it to her. Somehow just being in his presence was comforting, and his calm, patient listening seemed to unlock some¬thing. The words began to tumble out in a stream. 

‘People talk about heroes’ deaths, of their souls still being with us, or being in some place called heaven, but it doesn’t mean anything to me. I just can’t get out of my head the fact that he may have died alone and probably in dreadful pain, among all that terrible destruction.’ A sob escaped. ‘Oh God, I don’t think I can face this any more . . . The mud and the mess and the thousands of crosses at the cem¬etery. I’ve seen them pulling bits of men from the mud, but we’ll never have a body to mourn.’ She sniffed and wiped her eyes. ‘I need to talk to him, Tubby. I need his forgive¬ness. Otherwise I’ll never be able to get on with my own life. I might just as well be dead.’ 

She stopped, embarrassed, fearing that she’d said too much. Any moment now he would ask her what there was to forgive, and she would have to confess her shameful secret. But all he did was take her hand and sit quietly beside her, waiting for the storm to pass.  

‘My dear, I have few words of consolation, I’m afraid,’ he said at last. ‘We are all sinners, and being able to forgive ourselves is the hardest lesson we face in life. But as for your Bertie, what I know from my own encounters with so many brave men over the past few years is that even in the most extreme circumstances, in conditions that no human, not even any animal, should be expected to bear, they took comfort from two important things.’ 

She looked up into his face, hungry for the balm of his words. 

‘The first was comradeship. Men learned to depend on each other in ways those of us who have never experienced front line combat will never understand. Those friendships were powerful and profound. To experience that real cama¬raderie, that absolute trust of knowing that someone would give their life for you, or you for them, is a rare and precious thing. I observed it at the House and when I went to give Sunday services in the trenches, and even envied them for it.’

‘That’s what Freddie talked about,’ she said, eager to understand more. ‘About how the war was hell, but he wouldn’t have missed it for the world because of that experience. He called it love.’ 

Tubby nodded, smiling. ‘I have also heard it called that before, many times. But that was not the only thing that kept them going. For the fortunate ones, like your Bertie, the most important thing was knowing that they were also loved, deeply loved, by those at home. They knew that they were playing their part, however small and ineffectual it might have seemed at the time, to protect those who loved them, and whom they loved.’ 

As her tears began afresh he sat beside her, quietly wait¬ing. Eventually, she gathered herself, clearing her throat enough to speak. ‘Thank you.’ 

Purchase 'In Love And War' here.

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2 comments:

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  2. This book sounds so good.
    I've only read the author's The Poppy Factory and The Silk Weaver (and they were amazing) and this extract sounds awesome.
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